It seems almost inevitable at this point: In the third year of the coronavirus pandemic and with a new cold and flu season, chances are you’ll wake up feeling less than stellar one of these mornings.
There are already hints that this year’s cold and flu season could be bad: the CDC has reported early increases in seasonal flu activity, and anecdotally people are ditching their Covid precautions and still show up sick at work.
Not only are there new rules for testing and monitoring your symptoms to determine which bug you have, working from home has raised the bar for taking a sick day – even if you can’t physically show up at the office, which Tells you Can’t send a few emails while recovering from the couch?
Here’s what health and workplace experts advise.
What to do if you wake up sick
If you wake up with a sore throat or a runny nose, treat it as if it were Covid-19 and take a rapid home test, says Dr John Swartzberg, Clinical Professor Emeritus at the School public health from UC Berkeley.
If your first rapid test is positive, it’s safe to assume you have Covid-19 and plan to self-isolate, he says.
If it’s negative, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Swartzberg suggests staying home and testing again the next day.
If your second home test is negative, or you take a negative PCR test, you probably don’t have Covid, but you could still have another respiratory virus or infection.
Consider consulting your GP to be sure. Even doctors say that due to overlapping symptoms, proper testing is needed to determine if you have a cold, the flu, Covid or even seasonal allergies, says Céline Gounder, infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist and principal researcher at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Generally, says Swartzman, “through the eyes of a doctor and as a public health professional, if you’re not feeling well with respiratory symptoms, you should stay home. That’s the most safe to do.”
Should you WFH or take a sick day?
As for deciding whether you want to log on to work from home, it’s a good idea to work with your own primary care physician to understand your health and vulnerability if you do, says Dr. Geeta Nayyar, chief medical officer at Salesforce.
You will want to assess: “How sick are you? Do you have a fever? Are you actively symptomatic? Do you have headaches and are you unable to concentrate? of a disease, where you may not be at 100% but you can give 85%.
Maybe you have a pressing deadline or an hour of work you really need to get done, says Nayyar. “You’ll be the best judge of whether it’s a work-from-home day or whether you can completely disconnect.”
If you’re up against a boss who’s made a clear dislike of working remotely or pressures you to keep working, remind them of the times when you’ve been just as productive at home throughout the pandemic, says Caroline Walsh, vice president of HR practice at Gartner.
And if a full day off is in order, discuss how you’ll be more productive and engaged after resting. “It’s the time of year when organizations are in a final crisis,” adds Walsh. “The more they can have a well-rested team, the more they can have a productive team.”
As a general rule, remember that working while sick is not doing everyone a favor: your body will take longer to fight off illness, your productivity will suffer, and, on a moral level, showing up sick “brings all the team,” says Nayyar. “It shows that there is no possibility of resting when you need it.”
Yes, you can WFH if your colleague keeps showing up sick
Nayyar says it’s up to managers to show the right behavior to stay home when sick. They should also invite sick employees to go home and assure them that it is not only good for them, but also for the rest of the team. “Imagine going from one person to five people, it doesn’t help the job.”
You can also make these suggestions horizontally to a peer, adds Walsh. Go ahead with supporting questions: How are you? Can I do something for you so you can go home and rest?
If those conversations aren’t happening and your office mate is still showing up at the office, congestion and all, Nayyar encourages workers to use flexible policies: “If you’re at risk or think your health is in danger, the same work from home policies apply to you.”
Paid sick leave is just the start
It should be remembered that not everyone is guaranteed to have paid sick leave. There are currently no federal laws mandating paid sick leave, and only a few states and cities have their own requirements. About 1 in 5 workers don’t have access to paid sick leave, and it’s an even bigger problem for low-wage workers.
ReDell Atkinson, 27, says he’s noticed more people showing up at his office with a cough or sneeze. Although her workplace has unlimited sick days, she understands why some people show up if they meet deadlines or can’t complete certain tasks from home. But she would like to see people continue to take increased health precautions: mask-wearing, hand-washing, virtual attendance at meetings, social distancing and updates on vaccines.
Swartzberg and Nayyar agree that employers can make sure they help their staff stay informed about how to stay healthy during cold and flu season, understand how viruses and bacteria are spread, what symptoms to look for, where to see a doctor and other resources to recover from the disease.
With enrollment season open, employers need to ensure their employees have access to a primary care physician – even better if they support telemedicine options. And employers can provide an on-site vaccination clinic or time off to get a flu shot, as well as the Covid shot or updated boosters.
For now, Atkinson will do what she can when meeting co-workers in the inclement weather: Stay masked, grab the hand sanitizer and mentally check to see if she’s taken her multivitamins that day.
“Little things create healthy habits,” she says. “Our bodies aren’t just fighting Covid – they’re fighting life.”
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