Coronavirus and the Workforce: An Interview with Dr Patricia Hibberd

Uncertainty is the new normal when it comes to novel coronavirus (COVID-19). We don’t know. We don’t know who has it or who has been exposed. We don’t know if we can travel or if this is something we need to worry about for the next few months. Companies are starting to take action by restricting travel, implementing work from home policies, and communicating plans with employees. But…we just don’t know.

Like most people, coronavirus thoughts and conversations have been occupying a lot of my time this week. I have so many questions, and I am not sure what sources of information to trust. I reached out to Dr. Patricia Hibberd, Chair and Professor for the Department of Global Health at Boston University, and she graciously helped to answer my questions. She has traveled all over the world, studying better ways to diagnose and treat respiratory issues and helped the CDC study the Ebola virus vaccine in 2015.

Below are some of the topics we discussed, and the full recording will be available on the Radical Research, HR Happy Hour podcast next week.

What do we know and what don’t we know about coronavirus today?

“We know that countries are doing exactly what they should be doing. They are increasing their surveillance to find out how many people have it. The denominator is increasing every single day because we are looking in ways we weren’t a few days ago. We are increasing the number of cases and the denominator to figure out what to do with people that have tested positive.”

“Clearly, this is very serious for certain people, but we don’t know the denominator, and that makes it very difficult to know more about this disease. Countries are trying every day to increase that denominator.”

What sources of information can we trust?

“I feel very comfortable with the CDC and the World Health Organization. I am quite concerned with data coming from other sources. We can also trust health officials in each state who are working with the CDC.”

How prepared are we as a country?

“We are getting better. We were a little slow to be testing as widely as we need to be. There are problems with the availability of testing and limitations on who should be tested. Testing needs to be broader than it is. We need to test not just people that have traveled. We need to test anyone with a respiratory issue, and that includes fever, cough, and shortness of breath.”

“Testing also needs to be done at an approved laboratory- not just any laboratory. Anyone that goes to a doctor’s office linked to the state will be able to trust the test has been approved.”

What responsibility do employers have?

“Employers should follow the CDC guidelines and let people work from home if they have symptoms. They should not be setting up their own screening or policies, but they need to make sure that employees can access what they need to remotely.”

Dr. Hibberd also cautions anyone traveling since it might involve transit through a country at risk. As information seems to change every day, she recommends the following CDC. “Yesterday’s information is only as good as yesterday’s information. We need ‘now’ information.”

If anyone is interested in learning more or connecting with Dr. Hibberd, Boston University is live-streaming a discussion on March 14 at 4:30 pm that will include a panel of experts.  This is meant to be an interactive discussion and I am very much looking forward to attending.