In this episode of The Line on Leave, we discuss tips for employers navigating COVID-19 in the workplace with The Hartford’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Adam Seidner, and Vice President of The Hartford's Health Services, Donato Monaco.
Laura Marzi: Hi everyone. I'm Laura Marzi. And thank you for tuning into our latest Line on Leave podcast from The Hartford. As we move closer to a COVID-19 vaccine, employers still must be vigilant about safety in the workplace. We definitely all know that. And our topic today is going to focus on how employers can continue to keep workers safe while minimizing the risk for everybody.
I've got two special guests today. The first is Dr. Adam Seidner, who is The Hartford's Chief Medical Officer. He has a strong background in public health and vaccine development and is going to provide some important insight for employers. My other important guest is Donato Monaco, who is Vice President of The Hartford's Health Services division. His group has a special purpose to help employers with injury prevention, recovery and Absence Management within the Disability and Workers' Comp field. And Donato's going to help us understand some of the latest technology geared toward employee health and safety.
Why don't we start off with a couple of really important questions for Dr. Seidner, and maybe you can bring us up to date on your thoughts on the vaccine and how close we are with widespread distribution.
Dr. Adam Seidner: Thank you. This is an excellent topic and happy to discuss that with everybody. Novavax is the fifth COVID-19 vaccine to enter phase three clinical trials. Most folks are aware that in the United States, we already have emergency use authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are MRNA vaccines. And next month in February, we'll most likely see the approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has currently been approved and being administered in the UK, and then Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine's a little unique in that it's just one shot as opposed to all the others that I just mentioned, which requires two shots.
Laura Marzi: And when you think through some of the implications of that, how far are we away from getting to a place that I've heard a lot in the media around herd immunity and how many doses will it take? How quickly could we go? Any thoughts around that?
Dr. Adam Seidner: Sure. Basically what we need to understand, there are a few things. To get to herd immunity, we're probably going to have to be in the 80 plus percent range for COVID-19. 80% of the population will have to be immunized. Now, the vaccines are currently doing a good job of preventing COVID-19 the disease, but we're also learning more about how well it will impact the transmission of the virus, SARS-CoV2, to other people. Someone could be vaccinated, but still could the infection, not be sick and be able to transmit it to someone else. Hopefully the vaccine will decrease that transmissibility. And once we get enough of a population inoculated, we'll be in that community or herd immunity phase.
Now, one of the things that we've been struggling with here in the US is to get the vaccine administered. Keep in mind, one third the ratio of vaccines available are three times what we've administered so far. We need to do much better, especially since the government is going to release all of the vaccine available, so that's going to increase the denominator and also wind up decreasing that fraction. We need to get closer to 100% or a one-to-one distribution and administration. And so once we start seeing those changes, we know we're in a good place and that we'll be able to get closer to that herd immunity or community immunity.
Laura Marzi: And one question I've had that I know a lot of others share is what is the role of masks and personal protective equipment along with social distancing, especially if you had both of your shots or you're able to get the one shot immunization, how does this all work in terms of how we're supposed to behave when we're moving around in a workplace?
Dr. Adam Seidner: Yeah. Realize that all the public health measures are going to need to be continued and followed until we get that community immunity. And it's going to take a while. It may not even occur this year. Continuing with social distancing, wearing face masks and wearing them properly and doing a whole host of other activities, such as quarantining if you've been exposed or isolating yourself if you've been infected, will be required to make sure that we have a safe environment, including the workplace.
Laura Marzi: And when you think about the role of the employer and we're trying to focus a lot on that today in our podcast, what kind of workplace interventions do we know, along obviously with immunization and the right PPE and social distancing, when you think about what employers can do to keep everybody safe, would you mind giving us some thoughts around just how things like environmental or ergonomic equipment play a role or even things like questionnaires and temperature checks? What are your thoughts on all of those?
Dr. Adam Seidner: Absolutely. Realize there's a whole host of controls that the employer can implement in the workplace, and sometimes we refer to them as a hierarchy of controls. One of the things that can do is obviously eliminate, as best they can, COVID-19 in the workplace. How do you do that? You confine people that are infected to home, or you have those just not having to work that didn't leave the workplace, but from home again, so telework, and for those that do need to come in, we need to look and make sure that have solo workstations. We don't want shared workstations. Yes, we can clean the surfaces and everything, but having shared staplers and other equipment, phones, is problematic. That's one area, elimination.
The other is engineering. Engineering and environmental controls consist of things like barriers, which could be plexiglass – I call them cough and sneeze guards – to continue with the six-foot distance, including what we can do in elevators, and hand hygiene is all important as well.
Another area to think about is administrative controls. Is there a staggered presence? Do people come into the office at different times so that everyone's congregating in the lobby or moving through a certain space simultaneously? We can also limit meeting sizes and or use of conference rooms. Also, limit travel. And there needs to be signage to educate and remind people of whatever the activity is that the employer is trying to enforce. And that brings us back to personal protective equipment, which could be masks and face shields. And again, the fact is masks need to be worn. They need to be worn properly as we go forward.
Another thing that the employer can do is have an attestation where they ask a series of questions about exposures and symptoms, as well as potentially have employees take their own temperature at home, but they can also have equipment available in the workplace to take employees' temperatures as well.
Laura Marzi: We talked a lot today about those pragmatic roles of the employer and what they can do to stage the workplace, make sure it stays secure. I would love any of your thoughts around mental health support and empathy to employees. What are your thoughts there?
Dr. Adam Seidner: Yeah, I think all employers need to recognize this is an extremely stressful time for their employees and they do need to show empathy and there's a number of different ways they can do that. But in addition to making sure supervisors and others are helping the employees, is to make sure all the policies and procedures are clear so that there's no ambiguity, if someone gets sick, what kind of leave and absence management is going to occur so it's not a question mark in their mind, and also to make sure that their Human Resources and Employee Assistance Programs are all ready to help these people as they go through this difficult time, and it could be for themselves, it may be their families. Again, some of the health insurance programs may have offerings that they can embrace as well. And just realize...I was a little shocked the other day when I was reading that substance use disorders is up as well as overdoses during this pandemic. All the work that we've done around opioid use disorder and addiction is still a problem, and the COVID-19 is exacerbating it.
Laura Marzi: Agreed. I think that a lot of what we're hearing, especially in some of the proprietary research that we've been doing at The Hartford, really talking to employers and their employees about what it means to be clear on mental health support really starts to give us new insights on how much the stress level is impacting people personally. And I think that that's some great counsel there. Thank you very, very much.
Donato, would you mind briefly explaining The Hartford's Health Services mission, what they do and how you work with employers?
Donato Monaco: Sure. Thank you, Laura. Given The Hartford's unique position as the largest combined Disability and Workers' Compensation insurance carrier, and also our number one carrier administrator position for Leave of Absence services, we established the Health Services team to focus on our connected claim services and combined reporting offering for joint Disability and Workers' Compensation customers to improve accuracy and satisfaction.
In addition, we also offer injury prevention and wellness services above and beyond what is available through our policy benefits or typical risk engineering services. Think of services such as onsite or virtual pre or post-offer health assessments, or an early symptom intervention programs, or more recently COVID-19 workforce support services like temperature monitoring and testing. We engage with customers and non-customers through our account management claim services, risk engineering teams, as well as directly to and through our licensed agents and broker partners.
Laura Marzi: Donato, we recently had Alicia Heine on to talk about work from home ergonomics to help people make sure that they're set up with the right equipment. If you're interested in more tips on working from home, definitely check out our last episode on work from home ergonomics. But now that we have Donato here, I'm wondering if you have any other advice for employers that are just looking to keep their remote workforce safe and productive?
Donato Monaco: Yes, Laura. We recently published a work from home toolkit that provides helpful information across five areas of focus. The first section is related to absence guidelines. It's important that employers set clear policies for remote workers that outline how and when employees can request time off, when they can use leave for illness and the approval process for absence requests.
Alicia did speak to the work from home ergonomics, which we address in our second section. It's important to establish a safe and productive at home office setting. Work from home spaces require the right tools, so be sure your employees have what they need to do their jobs.
Consider offering assistance in delivering and setting up ergonomic furniture for your remote workers, even if it's done remotely or by video. We've seen that to be very effective.
Remote worker compliance, technology and information security continues to be a major consideration, and we address that in our third section.
Having a list of rules in place for video conferencing, internal messaging can help as you're managing remote employees. Consider writing these rules out to share with them and documenting the tools you use in your company.
Our fourth section is leadership and employee engagement, which can be difficult no matter where the work is taking place, but especially challenging with remote workers. There's no magic formula for how to work remotely or how to manage employees working virtually, but as you continue to do it, you'll learn what works best for your team. You'll most likely find that managing remote employees, keeping them involved as much as possible, will be best. One thing to consider when managing remote employees is to make them more enjoyable in terms of the time you spend with them, so formally schedule time to take coffee breaks or one-on-one meetings, keeping things light and upbeat.
We devote the final section entirely to mental health and wellness. We all have to get used to a new environment when working remotely, so recognize your employees are facing a lifestyle change that can come with health concerns. You'll want to decide if you should structure your employees' work hours and breaks to help them avoid burnout. One option may be offering flexible workers a more flexible schedule that allows them to work around their responsibilities. We include work from home tips for staying healthy, such as taking time to get away from the computer, eating healthy, staying hydrated, scheduling time for exercising, and to improve their energy and focus levels.
Laura Marzi: Donato, those are some incredibly great insights. When I think about the complexity behind just enforcing those guidelines, getting workspaces set up, really understanding compliance and information security, and then just how you lead through that and focus on mental health and wellness at the same time, that's a lot. I think what we'll do is share a link to your toolkit in the show notes so that our listeners get a better opportunity to dig into some of that great detail there.
There was one area that I thought maybe we could touch on as well, and wanted to focus on temperature screening as a safety measure. My understanding is that the technology that's available right now can make this a little easier for employers. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that for a minute.
Donato Monaco: The early feedback we heard from some customers who had multiple buildings or several entrances who operate multiple shifts was that staffing with onsite personnel could be difficult to manage and more expensive than what they were willing to pay, but they still wanted to protect their employees. Based on that feedback, we saw an opportunity to work with a partner to provide a low cost, scalable, medical grade technology solution for employers to detect temperature. This temperature detection system also uses facial recognition to determine whether employees, customers or visitors are wearing masks as required.
It’s called AITDS, which stands for Artificial Intelligence Temperature Detection Systems and essentially is like a large stationary smartphone or a small tablet device. We have a great flyer that you can access via the link within the show notes which explains the system in more detail and how it can help make your workplace safer and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It's fast, so it can provide contactless scanning in two to three seconds per employee, which eliminates the transmission of risk from having employees building a queue waiting for their temperatures to be taken manually. It can provide instant notifications immediately informing employers, via live stream, email, or text when someone fails to meet requirements for entry. Super user-friendly. It automatically adjusts for various heights. It's ADA compliant. It can be used both indoor and outdoor, and it can automate the contactless access through secure entryways as well. Most important, it's cost-effective. There's two options at $3,000 or $4,000 per device, which works for either small businesses or large employers with multiple locations.
Now, the types of customers or employers that have expressed interest are, an example could be a large financial services firm that was out in the west coast. They occupied several buildings in a single campus environment. Each one of the buildings had multiple entrances and they had staggered their shift to ensure social distancing in the workspace and they were looking for a cost effective temperature monitoring solution for each entryway.
We also talked with a transportation company that runs a 24 by seven operation across dozens of distribution centers with heavy foot traffic coming in and out. They were looking for a cost-effective enterprise-wide solution that could be tied together. And then we've heard some from main street businesses like independent restaurants and outpatient medical centers that want a no touch, low cost effective way to keep patrons, patients and employees safe. Feedback has been positive to date, so keep an eye out for some social shares, which The Hartford has in the coming days, offering $100 off purchase vouchers for those who are interested as well.
Laura Marzi: That's awesome, Donato. Thank you for the detail on that. I know that the temperature checking is definitely on a lot of people's minds, especially as we're trying to think through what 2021 is going to look like for the workplace, along with staggered vaccine distribution, too. Really important feedback. I'm wondering, in the time we have together too, are there any other precautions or procedures you'd recommend to employers just to put in place to keep their workforce safe as we're moving into this new year?
Donato Monaco: Yeah. We partner with a number of providers to offer several different effective onsite and virtual services to help employers maintain a safe work site. We can customize a web questionnaire for employees to complete before arriving to their work site, monitoring for temperature, symptoms and high potential exposure to COVID spread. We can tailor an information hotline to provide direction to employees related to specific employer practices, COVID reporting or medical attention, including tele-triage, which could be coordinated with an employer sponsored program or we could actually provide the telemedicine services ourselves through a partner relationship.
As an add-on to the basic services, we can still do the onsite temperature monitoring and molecular testing either at the work site or at home using a tele-nurse to administer those tests. And what's been an attractive service we've heard from a number of customers has been doing job analyses and return to work assistance and services, building guidelines and processes as well as virtual and onsite fitness for duty evaluations for employees that may have been furloughed or have been absent due to COVID or even if they just been injured and away from the job and they're now returning to a job that requires physical lifting, straining, twisting, etc.
Laura Marzi: Fantastic. Thank you so much. I'd like to close us out now by thanking both Dr. Adam Seidner and Donato Monaco for their thoughts today. I thought it's been a great discussion and I thank you all for listening. As always, if you do like what you hear, please subscribe to our podcast and share it with your colleagues. You can also access the toolkit that Donato talked about and learn a little bit more about the COVID support services in the show notes, and until next time, I encourage you to be well and stay safe, everyone. Thank you so much for listening.