What your workforce can do to keep themselves healthy this winter respiratory infection season, and how HR and CSO leaders can help

Right now, COVID-19 wastewater levels suggest we’re in the midst of the second largest wave of COVID-19 since the pandemic began (behind Omicron). It seems like everyone has a story of being ill themselves with flu, COVID-19, or RSV, or has a story of a loved one who was hospitalized or seriously ill from one of these infections. Workplace absenteeism is elevated from these viruses. HR and CSO leaders can influence behaviors and policies in your organizations to keep more employees respiratory virus free, healthy, and able to work. What steps can you take now to achieve this?

  • Adopt a culture in the organization that encourages effective, common-sense behaviors like handwashing, cough/sneeze etiquette, and use of elbow or fist bumps instead of handshakes for greetings.  Handwashing, especially before eating, after using the restroom, or after shaking hands with others has been known for generations to reduce disease transmission, especially for respiratory infections. When high-touch surfaces like countertops and door handles are contacted, hand hygiene is key for employees to reduce respiratory infection (and GI infection) risk. HR leaders can model good cough/sneeze etiquette by using a bent elbow to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Then, it is best to immediately perform hand washing (or antiseptic gel use) afterwards. Similarly, modeling greetings other than handshakes, like elbow bumps, can keep more employees healthy during this rampant respiratory virus season. You can circulate and post this infographic [xxxxxx] in key areas like breakrooms, restrooms, and meeting rooms to promote these approaches with your employees.
  • The culture of respiratory virus prevention should also encourage non-presenteeism. That is the concept that employees should stay out of the office when ill with respiratory symptoms, especially when they have fevers. Leadership needs to model this for employees to make it work, as if the leaders stay out when ill, others are more likely to do so. When employees come to work sick, management should be trained to send them out of the office. Remember, it’s much easier to have one key employee out ill than it is to have 10 out because the first sick employee came to work. Virtual work from home arrangements for potentially contagious employees can make this habit easier to adopt.
Masked employees
  • Masking by employees, although politicized, has strong evidence of its effectiveness as a measure that reduces respiratory infection risk. Places that had high rates of masking, like Taiwan, fared much better during the COVID-19 pandemic than the US did. Encouraging employees who wish to mask in the office to do so can make your workplace safer and lead to fewer people being unable to work because of respiratory illness.
  • Updated vaccines are now available for influenza, COVID-19, and RSV. Almost all people over 6 months are eligible for influenza and COVID-19 vaccination, and pregnant women or adults over 60 are eligible for RSV vaccination in the US. All three of these vaccines reduce the chances of dying from their respective infections. HR can establish programs to secure vaccine access in the workplace for COVID-19 and influenza vaccines. Leadership can educate employees about eligibility for the RSV vaccine so they consult their healthcare providers about its risks and benefits. Similarly, HR policies should make it as easy as possible for interested employees to get vaccines (provide childcare and PTO for employees pursuing vaccination). Transportation assistance to vaccine-providing sites should be incorporated, and programs bringing the vaccines to the workplace at a variety of hours can boost vaccine uptake in the workplace. Education campaigns about the impressive benefits conferred by these viral vaccines can have significant influence on employees choices about vaccination.
  • Simple in-office air handling measures, we now know, can help make the workplace safer from viral respiratory infections. These include the use of low cost, portable, in-room filtration units and the deployment of basic ventilation improvements (opening doors, windows when possible)
  • When employees must travel or go to crowded meeting spaces for work, CSO’s can have an influence on protective precautions employees can take. Extra measures to reduce viral transmission risk (hand washing, physical distancing to the degree possible, pre-travel vaccination, and masking when on planes, trains, etc, all can reduce risk. Allowing employees to travel by private vehicle lessens the chance they will get sick in transit.
  • Smoking increases susceptibility to respiratory infections, and smokers get sicker when they get these viruses. Employers and health insurers with whom they contract can incentivize smokers to quit. Added costs of insuring smokers can be passed on to the smokers, as studies have shown doing so increases quit rates. Fewer smokers on the workforce lessens the organization’s overall susceptibility to these respiratory viruses.
  • Use antibiotics only when confidently diagnosed with a bacterial infection by a HCP. Most colds, sinus symptoms, and bronchitis are viral, and antibiotics do not help. Overusing them carries significant short and long-term health risks. These include the onset of a dangerous bowel infection after the antibiotics kill off the normal protective bacteria that live in the bowel. Overuse of these medicines also leads to antibiotic resistance (after even a few doses) that impairs the ability to treat infections in the future.
  • If employees contract COVID or influenza, they should immediately contact their healthcare provider to see if they are candidates for treatment for those infections with antivirals. Such treatment can be life-saving for some, and shorten the length of symptoms for most. 

The first two winters since the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic have been characterized by intense proliferation of other respiratory viruses (influenza and RSV). When added to the productivity losses driven by COVID-19 disease, these viruses put a lot of employees out of work and make their employers less competitive. The measures described above can help reduce absenteeism on your teams, and different combinations of them can be adopted by HR and CSO leaders to fit your organization. Remember, no one measure is perfect at prevention of these infections, so the more measures that are adopted, the fewer cases will arise in your employees, and the more resilient your workforce will be.

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Dave Komendat retired as the Vice President and Chief Security Officer for The Boeing Company, a role he held for 14 years of his 36 years within the security profession. Komendat was responsible for the company’s global security and fire protection policy and procedures, site security, executive protection, supply chain and aviation security, structural and aircraft fire protection, government and proprietary information security, classified cyber security, strategic intelligence, international security, business continuity and disaster preparedness, Global Security Operations Center, and security background investigations.


Komendat was also the lead Boeing interface for both national and international security policy engagement with numerous government and industry advisory groups. He represented Boeing as past co-chairman and current board member on the Domestic Security Alliance Council, past President of The International Security Management Association and served as a member of the Threats and Information Committee for the Overseas Security Advisory Council.  


Komendat is the founder and President of DSKomendat Risk Management Services, he also serves on several company advisory boards and holds board leadership roles with several non-profit organizations whose missions are to protect people globally, including Hostage U.S. and The International Security Foundation. Dave is also a Strategic Engagement Advisor for the Office of Private Sector within the FBI. In 2018, Dave was awarded the Director’s Award for Exceptional Public Service by FBI Director Christopher Wray.


Komendat graduated from California State University at Long Beach and also attended and completed the executive development program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Dr. Carter Mecher serves as the Medical Advisor for the Public Health Company. 


Prior to joining PHC, Carter served as a Senior Medical Advisor for the Office of Public Health in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In this position, Dr. Mecher played a key role in the COVID-19 outbreak response. 


From 2005 to 2011, he served as the Director of Medical Preparedness Policy at the White House Homeland Security Council and National Security Staff. He was a principal author of the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan. In this capacity, he helped set policy and devise strategies to mitigate the consequences of a pandemic and promote pandemic preparedness. 


Before serving at the White House, Dr. Mecher was the Chief Medical Officer for the Southeast VA Network in Atlanta from 1996 to 2005. In this role he oversaw the healthcare delivery for veterans in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. 


Dr. Mecher is a co-author of Lessons from the COVID War, an in-depth examination of the U.S. response to the pandemic. In addition, he is featured in Michael Lewis’ book The Premonition.


Dr. Mecher received his medical degree from Chicago Medical School and completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in critical care medicine at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center.

Dr. Joe DeRisi is a Scientific Advisor to PHC. He is one of the early pioneers of DNA microarray technology and whole genome expression profiling; he is nationally recognized in the field of genomic epidemiology for designing a first-of-its-kind initiative for COVID-19. Joe currently serves as Co-President of Chan Zuckerberg BioHub and is a professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at University of California, San Francisco. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Stanford University.

Dr. Sumiko Mekaru is the Vice President of Research and Innovation at The Public Health Company. Dr. Mekaru is an epidemiologist operating at the intersection of traditional epidemiology and technology and leading cross-disciplinary teams to solve challenges in public health. Prior to joining PHC, Dr. Mekaru was a Life Sciences Strategy, Policy, and Operations Expert at Booz Allen Hamilton where she recently led the development of COVID-19 forecasting models for disease transmission, resource utilization, and critical events for the Department of Defense. Dr. Mekaru has also led health technology teams at Epidemico and Boston Children’s Hospital, creating innovative health surveillance tools. She has published extensively on infectious disease outbreak monitoring, modeling, and surveillance. Dr. Mekaru holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Tufts University and a PhD in epidemiology from Boston University.

Justin McIntosh is an experienced professional with 10+ years in management and 8+ years in software engineering. Currently, he is the Vice President of Operations at The Public Health Company. His journey began in college when he co-founded Safe Site, a utility services company, which expanded to operations in three states with over 300 employees. After a successful exit, he founded Docusite, a construction risk management application, diving into software engineering. Despite challenges with Docusite, Justin’s passion for technology led him to various roles before landing at The Public Health Company.


In his current role, Justin is tackling the challenging task of improving operations in a remote environment. He is dedicated to his role and is always open to sharing experiences and insights. He is committed to nurturing effective teams, improving operations, and shaping innovative solutions. His focus is on creating a positive, growth-oriented environment and mentoring emerging leaders, reflecting his commitment to collective success.

Lori Sutton is the Vice President of Marketing at The Public Health Company. She is a strategic marketing visionary and global brand leader with 20+ years of progressive experience in B2B/B2C SaaS software marketing in large enterprise and SMB markets. She has expertise in leading strategy development, overhauling brands, launching products and driving growth in target verticals. Prior to joining PHC, Lori was the Vice President of Marketing and Growth at SMS-Magic, where she led the global GTM strategy, orchestrated a brand overhaul, developed new messaging and positioning and launched revenue generating campaigns. Lori held marketing and management roles at Model N, Bullet Point Network, Saba and other SaaS software companies where she focused on marketing strategy, business objectives and analytics to drive revenue.

Lori holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, an Executive Education in Corporate Strategy at Harvard Business School and continues coursework at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Craig Katsuyama is the Vice President of Administrative Services at PHC. He brings extensive experience building companies from the ground up and was instrumental to the launch of IEX Group in 2012, which challenged the status quo of financial markets and created an entirely new stock exchange that works for all investors. Craig spent the last eight years at IEX where he built and oversaw the accounting and finance teams before transitioning to help establish IEX’s Event Stream business, a data messaging platform that applies IEX’s core technology to areas outside of finance. Craig graduated from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada with a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting and Economics.

Dr. David Fisk is the Chief Medical Officer at The Public Health Company. Prior to joining PHC, Dr. Fisk served as an Infectious Disease Specialist at Sansum Clinic.  He serves as the Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Cottage Health, leading the infection control team at Cottage, working with physicians and hospital leaders on the COVID Incident Command Center to ensure the highest level of preparation and care for patients. In early March 2020, before the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Santa Barbara County, Dr. Fisk advised that the virus was already spreading locally before community members were observing symptoms.


Dr. Fisk completed his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his Internal Medicine residency and Infectious Diseases fellowship at University of Michigan Medical Center. He is board certified in Infectious Diseases and a Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Chris Latko is the Chief Technology Officer at PHC. He joined as a Principal Software Architect where he played a key role in building out the platform. He has over 25 years experience in the technology sector holding positions at companies he started, Fortune 500 companies, and a multitude of startups both in the United States and Japan. He has spent the last decade designing, refining, and reimplementing architectures for hypergrowth startups such as Boxfish, Paxata (acquired by DataRobot), Banjo, and Globality. Chris earned two patents for designing a streaming data ingestion/data normalization platform.

Kendall Burman serves as PHC’s General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer. Prior to joining PHC, Burman held leadership roles at Alloy, a data and technology start-up for the progressive political market. Burman previously served as the Deputy General Counsel for Strategic Initiatives at the Department of Commerce and as Associate White House Counsel and Special Assistant to the President in the Obama Administration. She was also a counsel in the cybersecurity and data privacy practice at Mayer Brown and served as Chief Staff Counsel for President Obama’s 2008 campaign.


Burman is a graduate of Bowdoin College and received her J.D. from the University of Chicago where she was an editor of the law review. She was also was a fellow at both the New America Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Dr. Charity Dean is the CEO, Founder and Chairman of The Public Health Company, a venture-backed Silicon Valley technology startup. 


In August 2020 Dr. Dean founded PHC, envisioning a commercial-grade global biosecurity platform to empower enterprises to manage biorisk at scale. Dr. Dean’s obsession with building a new solution was born out of 24 years in public health and the recognition that Silicon Valley innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning could birth this entirely new capability. Two years later PHC PharosTM is a game-changer for numerous businesses providing real-time, dynamic risk management across their global footprint and assets. 


Dr. Dean founded PHC having served as the Assistant Director for the California Department of Public Health where she was part of the executive team under Governor Newsom running the COVID-19 pandemic response. She co-founded and co-chaired California’s COVID-19 Testing Task Force and under her leadership, California went from ranking last in the nation for testing to first in three months. In 2019, Dr. Dean served as Acting State Public Health Officer overseeing 4,300 staff with an annual operating budget of $3.5 billion. 


Before her move to statewide office, she served as the Public Health Officer for Santa Barbara County and oversaw a myriad of disease outbreaks and biological threats; she also served as attending physician for TB, HIV, and homeless medicine at the Santa Barbara Health Care Centers. 


Dr. Dean was awarded Physician of the Year in 2018 by the Central Coast Medical Association and honored as one of the Women of the Year by the California State Legislature.


Dr. Dean is a co-author of Lessons from the COVID War. Her work during the pandemic is the focus of Michael Lewis’ book The Premonition. Dr. Dean has shared her insights about the danger of biological threats and the changes we must make before the next crisis in a number of interviews and podcasts.


Dr. Dean holds a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine from Tulane University and a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Oregon State University.

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