COVID-19: Bracing for Impacts

March 25, 2020
Katie O’Neill, DC, BS
McGriff National Practice Leader, Clinical Wellness

There is an old weatherman’s saying that the month of March is “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” As spring 2020 began to bloom in the U.S., a blizzard of COVID-19 cases (caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2) hit, with cases accumulating quickly in every state. With no seeming end in sight, we must work in unison to adapt, cope, and prepare for the impacts. No part of our lives or the way that we do business will be untouched, and in terms of well-being, several pillars of health are likely to be affected.

Physical health

Scientists and medical experts are still investigating and learning about the virus each day. With limited research and many variables, it is difficult to predict how many people are at risk and the associated healthcare costs. Since advanced age is a risk factor for serious complications and death, employers might not consider the potential claims impact for people in the workforce. While 8 out of 10 deaths due to the virus were Americans aged 65 and older,  people ages 20-65 also experienced illness and complications severe enough to result in both hospitalizations and intensive care.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 38% of patients requiring hospitalization were under the age of 55 (studied between February 12–March 16, 2020).  Certain chronic and auto-immune conditions can increase the risk of complications and death in people in several age bands below 55. Since COVID-19 has an affinity for the lungs, any underlying conditions that impact the heart or lungs (asthma, COPD, hypertension, heart disease) increase the workload on the system. Diabetes has also been shown to increase the risk for complications. In studies from China, patients with underlying cardiovascular disease or diabetes were between 2-3 times more likely to experience severe complications compared to COVID-19 patients without those conditions. The CDC and many health systems are also recommending additional caution for people with a weakened immune system regardless of their age. Certain conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and treatments for conditions such as cancer, can reduce the body’s ability to manage the virus.

There are also potential impacts due to healthcare shortages and supplies. As regions that have been hit hard are trying to staff their hospitals with health care providers and supplies, there could be less bandwidth to care for the everyday situations that bring people to see their doctor or hospital. It is all the more important now to make sure that employees with chronic conditions are managing them appropriately to avoid a catastrophic claim, and that they are prepared for potential wait times.

Social health

Many of the most emotionally impactful events of our lives and the fabric of our social well-being have become collateral damage of COVID-19, such as weddings, graduations, reunions, family vacations, honeymoons, baby showers, birthday parties and sporting events. Further, in order to protect others, we might not be spending time with our family and loved ones who are at risk. This can have a devastating emotional impact and create a sense of loss and powerlessness. Lack of social connectedness can generate feelings of depression, isolation and disconnection.

Mental and emotional health

The idea of yourself or a loved one having serious complications from COVID-19 can create an understandable level of stress and anxiety. Add to this the stress trying to teach children at home, concerns over the economy and income, access to resources, and a sense of fear and uncertainty, and there is an even greater level of stress added to an already taxing situation.

Financial health

Numerous industries and businesses will face hardship from the efforts to minimize the spread of the virus. Travel, hospitality, entertainment arts, personal services, and certain health services businesses, to name just a few, are all facing challenges. Whether it’s your neighborhood pizza place or a major airline, social distancing is needed to save lives but can put an immediate halt to business for many. Mounting concerns over retirement funds, potential medical costs, and the impacts to the job market are of concern to all, even in industries experiencing fewer direct consequences.

What employers can do

Physical health

Help employees improve their health status and physical resiliency.

  • Work with your broker partners and carriers to promote more targeted outreach disease management for at risk members.
  • Leverage safety and health teams to help promote how well-being connects with safety.
  • Promote tobacco cessation programs and state quit lines.

Encourage employees to use wellness programs to promote better overall health.

  • Remind employees of the different options available and any incentives.
  • Encourage employees to move throughout the day, take walks, and engage in healthy activities while still maintaining social distancing.

Provide resources for free at-home and outdoor fitness, meditation, and healthy eating.

  • Many major fitness and well-being companies are offering free digital memberships, live workouts on their social media pages, and online resources.

Promote telehealth resources to help employees have easier access to care.

  • Encourage employees to register for telehealth while they are healthy, so that it is available with ease when needed. 

Social health

  • Promote ways to stay connected and allow for socialization with a regular short team call for highlighting achievements and sharing positive news.
  • Offer flexible hours when possible for employees managing children being schooled at home.
  • Look to local community resources for listings of groups providing virtual meet ups and social opportunities.
  • Provide materials to employees on daily habits and routines to help organize themselves and feel a sense of purpose.
  • Provide information on organizations for employees to find or provide help in their communities.
    • Blood donation information through the American Red Cross, the United Way, Meals on Wheels, virtual 5k, community food banks.
    • Online meetings for substance abuse, grief counseling, and other groups.

Mental and emotional health

  • Provide reminders of employee assistance programs (EAP) and free resources for crisis lines; encourage employees to save the phone numbers in their phone.
  • Leverage existing programs for mental health and well-being.
  • Promote resources for health and activity, which can help alleviate stress and anxiety.
  • Provide equipment and resources that can make working from home easier.
  • Even when employees are working from home, allow them to have set working hours so that they have time to unplug from work.
  • Encourage resources to practice gratitude, patience, and self-care during uncertain and challenging times.

Financial health

  • Ensure employees understand their benefits and know how to find in-network providers.
  • Offer a refresher on the benefits of health savings accounts and how they can be used for medical expenses.
  • Provide information on State and Federal resources for aid and resources.
  • Inform employees of available financial wellness programs. 

While we’re navigating the situation day by day and adjusting our daily lives and routines, we are reminded of the interconnectedness we share as human beings in our families, communities and more broadly. Maintaining and improving health, staying connected, and preparing the best we can will help all of us do our part to serve the greater good in crisis.

Coronavirus resources

Obesity: America's COVID-19 Achilles Heel

Helping Employees with Financial Insecurity

Government Announces Relief for Defined Benefit Plans

COVID-19: FAQs for Employee Benefits Groups

Commercial Property - Building Vacancy Advisory

Risk Management Issues in the Trucking Industry

Keeping Truck Drivers Healthy and Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Assessing and Navigating Declines in Pension Assets in the Wake of COVID-19

Preparing for and Handling a Property Loss During COVID-19

Coronavirus Advisory: Cybersecurity Measures

Retirement Relief Provisions of the CARES Act

HR Strategy: Crisis Preparedness Plans

COVID-19: Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

Beware of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Scams

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The information, analyses, opinions and/or recommendations contained herein relating to the impact or the potential impact of coronavirus/COVID-19 on insurance coverage or any insurance policy is not a legal opinion, warranty or guarantee, and should not be relied upon as such. This communication is intended for informational use only. As insurance agents or brokers, we do not have the authority to render legal advice or to make coverage decisions, and you should submit all claims to your insurance carrier for evaluation. Given the on-going and constantly changing situation with respect to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, this communication does not necessarily reflect the latest information regarding recently-enacted, pending or proposed legislation or guidance that could override, alter or otherwise affect existing insurance coverage. At your discretion, please consult with an attorney at your own expense for specific advice in this regard.

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  • 1

    CDC.gov, visited March 18, 2020.

  • 2

    Id.

  • 3

    Li et al. Prevalence and impact of cardiovascular metabolic diseases on COVID-19 in China. Clin. Res. Cardiol. March 2020. 

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