Your boss orders you back to the office even though he doesn’t know if COVID is really over

Your boss orders you back to the office even though he doesn’t know if COVID is really over
Your boss orders you back to the office even though he doesn’t know if COVID is really over

Labor Day marked the end of the total work-from-home era for many American workers, with companies like Apple, Comcast and Peloton demanding a return to the office after the long holiday weekend.

The unspoken premise behind the edict was that the COVID pandemic as we know it is over – or at least a shadow of what it was.

But public health experts say many Americans — and their bosses — are making optimistic assumptions about what the rest of the year will look like that aren’t based on science. The reality is that the virus is unlikely to go away any time soon, and the severity of the next wave of COVID remains a mystery.

“Any modeling done more than three to four weeks in advance doesn’t make sense,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. Fortune. He added that anyone who says otherwise “probably wants to sell you a bridge.

“We have so little experience with coronaviruses and how they unfold,” he said. “We’re sort of in limbo right now.”

COVID be damned – bosses want workers back in the office

The past year has been filled with missed return-to-office deadlines.

Several American companies were planning a Labor Day return in 2021, but the Delta variant has upended those plans. Early 2022 was the next target, until Omicron canceled those plans as well.

More recent announcements about ending remote work have completely left out COVID. Apple recently set a September 5 deadline for employees to return to the workplace at least three days a week, but offered no COVID-related explanation as to why, such as the potentially unfolding virus. to release.

And a memo from Comcast CEO Dave Watson reportedly mentioned the importance of in-person collaboration in innovation, but nothing about COVID beyond a statement that vaccines aren’t needed and a demand. employees to work from home or take sick leave, depending on The Philadelphia Investigator and other sources.

While there have been some notable rebellions, it appears workers whose employers are determined to get them back into the office are being forced out of remote work, whether the virus is cooperating or not.

But bosses could be forgiven for assuming the pandemic is nearly over. The White House and the World Health Organization have recently made statements that some experts say are far too optimistic.

Global COVID deaths are at the lowest level since March 2020, prompting World Health Organization Director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to proclaim this week that the world has “no never been better placed to end the pandemic.”

“We’re not there yet,” Ghebreyesus said. “But the end is in sight.”

And earlier this month, the White House appeared to back away from a dire forecast it issued in May that predicted a fall/winter surge of up to 100 million COVID infections – more than the recorded total. by the country so far – and potentially a significant wave of deaths.

At a Sept. 6 press conference, White House COVID response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said science had “catch up to the virus” and that annual COVID boosters — similar to annual vaccines against flu – are likely in the near future.

But other public health experts are not so optimistic.

“That could be a scenario,” said CIDRAP’s Osterholm. “Another scenario could be that we actually see a new variant emerge that is able to evade immune protection, i.e. more contagious.”

Beyond COVID-19 and the SARS and MERS epidemics of the early 2000s, scientists have very little experience with coronaviruses, he said, and there is no reason to say that one scenario is more likely than another.

“What we don’t want to do is provide comforting, comforting answers to the public because we think that’s what they want,” he said.

The projection problem

In 2020, the idea of ​​predicting a virus as one predicts the weather was new. Bad viral “time” ahead? Wear a mask, just like you might wear a raincoat if a storm were forecast.

But there’s a reason forecasts are only released for the next few days — or in the case of COVID, weeks, experts say.

“We’ve gotten really good at projecting what the pandemic will look like three, four, five weeks from now,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, a professor in the University of California’s Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology. Fortune.

“Beyond now – and certainly beyond six weeks from now – prediction accuracy drops dramatically,” he added. “You get two to three months, and it’s almost like flipping a coin.”

The terms forecasting and modeling are often used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be, according to Dr. Elizabeth Carlton, an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and a member of the COVID-19 modeling team at the State. The COVID forecast predicts short-term conditions – the next two to four weeks. The projections, however, are longer term and require scientists to make assumptions.

So any COVID projection more than a few weeks away — like the White House’s dire fall and winter forecast released this spring — is based on guesswork and entirely uncertain.

A better attempt at looking to the future

The short-term forecast for US COVID in the United States is mostly positive.

“Most scenarios indicate that hospitalization rates related to COVID-19 infection will be similar to current rates or slowly decline over the next few weeks,” the CDC said. Fortune earlier this month.

Beyond that, however, other public health agencies are careful to point out the uncertainty in their projections of what will happen over the next few months.

Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for COVID-19 response at the World Health Organization, said Fortune this week that “continuing” waves of COVID are expected, although she added that it’s currently impossible to provide a more accurate picture.

Carlton thinks there’s reason for hope this holiday season – hope with a “giant asterisk”.

On an individual level, the risk of contracting COVID “is lower than it has been for some time,” she said, especially given the new Omicron boosters.

While now is not the time to throw caution to the wind and personal precautions must continue, “I think there is justification for letting your hair down,” she added.

“It’s not the flu – we’ve lost over 200,000 people this year to COVID,” she said. “In bad flu years, we lose tens of thousands of people. But we are not where we were a few years ago.

But now is not the time for public health and disaster preparedness officials to take a break, Carlton noted.

When it comes to the next global wave of COVID — and there will be another, experts say — the virus is keeping its cards close. Most specialists Fortune discussed the sub-variants named BA.4.6 and BA.2.75 as potential variants of concern worth watching this fall and winter. However, neither variant is currently raising big red flags.

Little is known about the Omicron spawn duo, including the severity of symptoms and whether they can evade immunity even against new Omicron boosters. Both show the ability, at least in some places, to compete with the globally dominant BA.5, although neither is making rapid progress so far.

Because some variants like BA.2.75, also known as Centaurus, progress slowly against BA.5, they must have some advantages over it when it comes to transmissibility, Osterholm said.

But he adds that a “sense of humility” is what is needed most as the United States faces another COVID winter.

“As far as we know, a Pi or Sigma could appear, replacing Omicron,” he said.

An unpredictable virus

The virus was not always so difficult to predict. In the early days of the pandemic, a variant that hit the UK hard would often have the same effect on the US several weeks later.

But now the virus spawns so many sub-variants in so many different places that it’s hard to identify any one of them in any given region and predict if and when it will make its way to the United States. , said Carlton.

With BA.5 apparently falling to a relatively low plateau of 60,000 new reported cases per day, it’s easy to interpret the lull in the waves as the end of the pandemic, Swarztberg says.

But we have come to this conclusion before — wrongly — and we continue to do so. This is what Carlton and other experts call the “fear-fatigue” cycle or the “panic-neglect” cycle, both of which involve a lack of proactive precaution and responsiveness that often involves too little action, too much late.

Last year, the United States was well placed in late September, October and November, Swarztberg said.

“But then we saw a new variant called Omicron in South Africa,” he said. “In three weeks he was there.”

The old epidemic coronaviruses SARS and MERS, although much less transmissible, were much more deadly, with mortality rates ranging from 20% to 30%, compared to that of COVID-19, which is less than 1%. Osterholm said.

But it’s possible, he argues, that COVID-19 will eventually evolve to develop the lethality of SARS and MERS while retaining its signature transmissibility.

Even if such a scenario never comes to pass, COVID is currently the fourth leading cause of death in the country — a fact we have collectively numb ourselves to, according to Osterholm.

“The same number three years ago would have been a ‘house on fire’ moment,” he said.

“The question is, is that number going to continue to drop gradually, like a soft landing? Stay the same? Potentially going up with a climb? We just don’t know.

. Your boss you order return office even if knows not COVID is really done

. boss orders office doesnt COVID

NEXT Moderna refused China’s request to reveal vaccine technology