After nearly two years of pandemic-related lockdowns, social distancing, masking, vaccines, and a host of personal and professional adjustments, the COVID-19 pandemic still looms large. All of us have felt the weight of loss and sacrifice in many different ways—all of us have made modifications to just about every aspect of our lives as we adapt to the new normal.
But diligence is an important part of our adjustment. We may have made our way to the shore, but the waves are still coming. Reported daily infections are rising again as the omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country and around the world.
COVID fatigue is real. We’re all tired of the restrictions it’s placed on everything we do. We miss interaction, activity, and our loved ones. We find ourselves growing impatient to return to routines we used to take for granted. But now is not the time to flinch. We must be smart in our approach and persistent in our efforts. We must remain aware, educated, and focused. We must listen to the experts.
To help us stay informed, LP Magazine once again has reached out to the amazing team at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to help answer our questions.
Adrienne Eastlake, MS, RS/REHS, MT (ASCP) is Lieutenant Commander for the United States Public Health Service and co-coordinator of the Wholesale & Retail Trade Sector Program for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
Debbie Hornback, MS is Health Communications Specialist and co-coordinator of Wholesale & Retail Trade Sector Program at the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health.
Always keep in mind that COVID-19 is a living virus. The very nature of the pandemic tells us that both the virus and information is evolving on a continuous basis as we look to find answers and overcome the impact dealt across the world. In response, NIOSH has provided important links that have been embedded in their answers to further support our queries and offer the best and most up-to-date information for your ongoing needs and questions. We strongly recommend that you bookmark this information to keep it available as a one-stop resource to stay most current and informed on the COVID crisis and its impact on retail.
LP Magazine: What is the status of things from your (the NIOSH/CDC) viewpoint—how are we (retail) doing, what are you seeing, and what can we all be doing better?
NIOSH/CDC: Retail workers have been providing essential services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, those same retail workers have faced potential exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), increased emotional and physical stress, and an increase in the threat of physical violence.
Changes in workplace protocols, customer and employee interactions, and ongoing health and safety risks have increased the need for employee support. Company leadership can offer this support by providing management with tools and training to help employees navigate the current retail environment.
To assist with providing this support, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace.
LP Magazine: How are you supporting businesses dealing with pushback on masks, social distancing, and responding to disruptive behaviors?
NIOSH/CDC: Workers may be threatened and assaulted as businesses try to put COVID-19 prevention policies and practices into place. These threats and assaults can happen in any workplace, but may be more likely to occur in retail, services, and other customer- or client-based businesses.
The CDC has created specific guidance for limiting workplace violence associated with COVID-19 prevention policies in retail and service businesses. This guidance page has been archived and is no longer being updated but contains information about limiting workplace violence associated with COVID-19 prevention policies.
OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also have general resources for addressing workplace violence. See the NIOSH Current Intelligence Bulletin: Violence in the Workplace and the OSHA Workplace Violence topic page. Both resources address workplace violence in general, not specific to the COVID-19 pandemic. NIOSH also recently published a blog that provides an overview of the state of Workplace Violence Research.
LP Magazine: What have been the most frequently asked questions you have addressed since the pandemic started?
NIOSH/CDC: NIOSH has received many questions related to the wholesale and retail trade sector since the beginning of the pandemic. The most common question we have received focuses on how to slow the spread of the virus though proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and masks, as well as proper ventilation. Information about these topics can be found on the CDC Workplaces and Businesses page and the OSHA Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace page.
LP Magazine: What are the most important lessons we have learned (and are learning) since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that we can apply moving forward, whether under the current circumstances or if another pandemic strikes or a similar incident occurs?
NIOSH/CDC: It is important to follow a layered approach to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Factors and methods used in such an approach include, but are not limited to, COVID-19 vaccination, PPE, proper ventilation, masks, and physical distancing.
More information on strategies to prevent and reduce transmission and maintain healthy business operations in non-healthcare workplaces can be found on the CDC Workplaces and Businesses page and the OSHA Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace page.
LP Magazine: What message would you share with those still debating whether to get vaccinated? We’ve heard that there is a lot of “misinformation” regarding vaccines. What misinformation do you believe has been most problematic and how would you address those concerns?
NIOSH/CDC: The most important message to those still debating whether to get vaccinated is that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in US history. The CDC recommends you get a full vaccination series against COVID-19 as soon as possible, and booster shots at least six months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination series.
The spread of misinformation on social media and through other channels can affect COVID-19 vaccine confidence. The first step in addressing misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines in your community is learning more about the misinformation, including where it starts and when, why, and how it is spreading and evolving.
LP Magazine: Clinical trials typically take at least three years or more to complete. These vaccinations were fast-tracked to meet the urgent need, which is also why some are concerned about getting vaccinated. How would you best address the concerns that might arise as a result, and the potential long-term outcomes?
NIOSH/CDC: COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Bringing a new vaccine to the public involves many steps including development, clinical trials, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization or approval, manufacturing and distribution, and vaccine safety monitoring. Many different public organizations and private companies have worked together to make COVID-19 vaccines available to the public.
While COVID-19 vaccines were developed rapidly, the scientific methods used in development have been around for decades, and all steps have been taken to ensure their safety and effectiveness. Please see CDC’s Developing COVID-19 Vaccines page for more information.
Many factors influence vaccine decision-making, including cultural, social, and political factors, individual and group factors, and vaccine-specific factors. For more information, the CDC has online resources about Building Confidence in COVID-19 Vaccines.
LP Magazine: We have many retailers with pharmacies that currently carry the vaccine and vaccinate customers. What is the shelf life for the vaccines?
NIOSH/CDC: Please see the information printed on vaccine packaging for product-specific shelf lives. For more information on vaccine shelf lives, please see the Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit.
LP Magazine: What does the horizon look like? What are the current viewpoints on a fourth or fifth wave? With the recent increase in cases, what are you preparing for—and what should we be preparing/prepared for?
NIOSH/CDC: Although we are unable to know when specific future events may occur, the CDC provides an interpretation of forecasts of new cases that some may find informative. Additionally, Ready.gov has a page dedicated to pandemics.
Regarding the Omicron variant, the CDC recently put out a webpage titled Omicron Variant: What You Need to Know to provide information specific to the Omicron variant. In addition, there is also a science brief that was recently posted which may have valuable retail-specific information.
Retailers most equipped to deal with the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic are those that are most informed with accurate and up-to-date information provided by science and subject matter experts. How and what we learn is just as important as how we respond.
We’re all in this together. Stay informed and stay safe!