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Doctor: Virus aftermath a long-term business challenge

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | May 19, 2021 1:00 AM

POST FALLS — As Kootenai County enters a period of “new normal,” professionals like Dr. David King urge industries to prepare for long-term challenges caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

King, director of occupational medicine for Northwest Specialty Hospital, discussed employee health and preparation in the "post-COVID era" during a Post Falls Chamber of Commerce luncheon presentation Tuesday.

“2020 and 2021 have proved to be very challenging years for everybody that owns a business. Whether it’s a small business, large business, medical business, hospitals, whatever, it’s certainly been unprecedented,” King said. “There’s going to have to be some creativity in getting ourselves out of these situations.” 

The major problem King sees today is gaining and retaining employees — an issue he said is noticeable in almost every industry.

Though King recognizes that people are searching for answers to solve their problems, he said the issue is unanswerable in many ways. However, proper management and planning in the workplace can be a benefit. 

COVID-19 regulations add another level of management responsibility businesses have had to adapt to, he noted. From Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to the likelihood of updated recommendations by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), King said employers are still trying to find operational balance. 

“COVID is still around,” he said. “Kootenai County has seen an uptick in cases over the last weekends, not as scary high as they were, but still it’s a little bit alarming to see the trends of hospitalizations and the ICU.”

Many of those new cases, about 25%, King said, are people under the age of 22. Still, he noted that local and national infection numbers are far lower than peaks reported in 2020. 

Steady vaccination distribution is a factor King believes contributes to the decline in cases. However, moving forward, he predicts that encouraging people to get immunized could be a challenge.

Pointing to a recent statement by Dr. Anthony Fauci, King said medical professionals, like the general public, have expressed hesitancy to the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“(The vaccine) is the only offensive weapon we have against what we’re dealing with, and the sooner we get down that road, the better we will be business-wise, health-wise, and mental health-wise,” King said. 

Masking is another hot topic following a release by the CDC stating vaccinated people no longer need to wear facial coverings or practice physical distancing. Comparing the national conversation behind masks and virus transmission to a football game, King said the topic is likely going to be “kicked back and forth for a while.”

“We’re all tired of them. Nobody likes them or wants to continue masking, but this is still an unsettled area,” he said. “I think we just have to honor what makes people able to do their jobs, go out and shop or feel comfortable. It’s not a shaming thing.”

The four-letter word King believes businesses should be most worried about is OSHA. Referencing a notification he received Monday, King said companies can expect increased OSHA COVID-19 prevention standards or risk fines and surprise visits “in the near future.”

“Right now, OSHA guidelines say these are not requirements. They are recommendations,” King said. “But we’ve all been down that road before when recommendations become requirements.”

Going forward, King advised employers to review the OSHA prevention programs, hazard assessments, identify measures to limit the spread of the virus, and educate workers. 

“I think if you’re just making a concerted effort and you can demonstrate that you’re aware, then you’re trying your best,” he said.

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