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Virus Leave is on the Rise

Coronavirus, Health

A survey conducted in April 2021 by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) revealed that more than half of its respondents had a worker who took either sick leave or family leave because of COVID-19. This is a much higher number compared to the NFIB’s December 2020 survey, where only a quarter of respondents had workers taking leave because of the virus. The April survey received responses from around 550 small businesses whereas the December survey had closer to 600 responses. Most of the workers who had taken leave (70%) were paid for this time off. 13% of workers had unpaid leave and 17% of these workers had a mix of paid and unpaid leave. [1] 

Although the number of people taking sick or family leave due to the coronavirus increased significantly from December to April, there is however positive news regarding other illnesses. The levels of various common seasonal infections, for instance, have remained extremely low this cold and flu season despite COVID-19 pandemic surges around the world. [2] Likely due to several pandemic-related restrictions instituted by governments reduced travel, social distancing, and better personal hygiene; the number of cases of common respiratory illnesses has greatly decreased this year. There were barely any cases of seasonal influenza in the Southern Hemisphere this last flu season, and the Northern Hemisphere appears to have followed that trend this year as health workers “noted an abrupt and early halt to the 2019-20 flu season” and positive tests for the flu dropped by 95% in the United States. [3] 

Additionally, even in some South American countries where COVID-19 was not controlled as well, flu case numbers were still low. On the other hand, the gap in viral competition for flu variants could lead to a surge in new swine-flu variants in the future. One positive outcome of the common cold is that adults who experienced cold symptoms within the previous year were, according to a study of more than 800,000 people, less likely to test positive for COVID-19. This phenomena could potentially be due to some cross-protection caused by a previous infection of a coronavirus, which is one cause of the common cold, could lead to some immunity for COVID-19. However, studies of this phenomena have had differing results. Other studies are looking at the possibility of a current seasonal cold, such as rhinovirus, infection contributing to COVID-19 immunity by interfering directly with the coronavirus. Clinical microbiologist Alberto Paniz Mondolfi from Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine has said that “‘[r]hinovirus is one tough virus.’ . . . Its fast growth stops other viruses from taking off, and it could conceivably be outcompeting SARS-CoV-2”. A lot is still unknown about these viruses though. [4] More of these studies might be able to reveal an impact on small businesses and the number of workers needing to take leave. As coronavirus is still a main part of our lives right now, having a better understanding of who might get infected could help employers make more insightful decisions about work schedules and other arrangements. 

Although there are a lot of variables in virus cases, for COVID-19, the flu, and respiratory illnesses, the evidence is still there that the number of flu and cold cases have significantly decreased this year. Additionally, further studies could potentially prove cross-immunity between various viruses. This could all be a good sign for small businesses as it means there will likely be a reduced number of workers needing to take sick or family leave in the future. That number will decrease even further as the number of people getting vaccinated increases. Currently, the total number of people who have been fully vaccinated in the United States is 106,168,588 (32% of the total U.S. population) while the number of people who have received at least one dose is 147,894,671 (44.5% of the population). [5] What businesses can do to keep their employees healthy now and in the future is by continuing to utilize safe practices at work, such as by monitoring employees’ health conditions and conducting temperature checks in addition to any other practices that employers may have taken up this past year.

[1] Anne Cullen, “Demand For Virus Leave On The Rise, Small Businesses Say”, Law360, 3 May 2021, https://www.law360.com/health/articles/1381023/demand-for-virus-leave-on-the-rise-small-businesses-say-, acc. 4 May 2021.

[2] Nicola Jones, “How COVID-19 is changing the cold and flu season”, nature, 15 Dec. 2020, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03519-3, acc. 5 May 2021.

[3] Ibid. The number of samples which were submitted for testing for the flu dropped by only 61%. 

[4] Ibid.

[5] “COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States”, CDC, updated 4 May 2021, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations, acc. 5 May 2021.

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