Life and work may be going back to normal as Covid-19 restrictions ease after a tough two years, but the pandemic is not over and for organisations, vigilance and minimising risk is still important. 

According to PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey Report 2022, 48% of the more than 4000 surveyed CEOs are concerned about the global health situation, which could inhibit their ability to achieve various outcomes over the next 12 months. Seventy-four percent said that health risks could inhibit their ability to sell products and services, while sixty-two percent said that health risks could inhibit their ability to attract and retain key skills/ talent.

 As people start returning to their pre-Covid-19 routines, organisations need to proactively ensure that the risk of acquiring and spreading Covid at work is minimised, while providing clear information about the benefits, risks and unknowns of prevention and treatment options.

Dr Wim Delva, founder and co-director of Wimmy says, “Companies are in a difficult position, being flooded with publicly available information about Covid-19, as well as their own internal occupational health data.”

But he explains that by using health analytics, organisations can create clear strategies and have rational protocols in place that protect their employees and remove the uncertainty that comes with the transition. 

According to Delva, people need clear guidelines, for instance on whether they should test before entering the office building if they have been in close contact with a confirmed or suspected case of Covid-19. And those questions are accompanied by others like what test to use and how long a negative test result is valid before another test is required.

In the case where employees need to be in the office, there needs to be clarity on the Covid-19 protocols in place as well as the vaccination policy of the organisation.

“Making information available that explains how the guidelines came about is an important step in achieving buy-in and adoption. Being transparent in the assumptions and unknowns is just as important,” adds Delva.

A medical surveillance programme to monitor severe Covid-19 cases is also an important step for organisations, in documenting the risk of hospitalisation or death, and identifying subgroups of the workforce that are at an elevated risk of adverse Covid-19 outcomes.

However, getting through the overwhelming amount of information while minimising the impact of Covid-19 and running an organisation, can be a difficult task.

 Data science can be used to combine observations and measurements, like the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, the sensitivity of a diagnostic test and the effectiveness of a vaccine, with elements that are difficult to measure like the percentage of undiagnosed cases and “Covid fatigue”, which is the slowly increasing risk appetite as the Covid-19 pandemic carries on.

“By building a conceptual model that is informed by data, assumptions and hypotheses, we can visualise how different scenarios play out in terms of Covid-19 transmission, mortality, and real-world vaccine effectiveness,” Delva adds. 

He further explains that assumptions and hypotheses can also be tested and adjusted by comparing the model predictions against new Covid-19 outcomes data.

The impact of new variants

The emergence of variants like Delta and Omicron, have shown that organisations need to remain vigilant and proactive during the pandemic.

Delva says although the theory of evolutionary biology suggests that variants should evolve to become ever less deadly over time, a new variant that is equally or more harmful than Omicron is still a possibility. And provinces and cities will have to keep a close eye on any warning signs of a new variant, through a number of Covid-19 indicators like the test positivity rate, new confirmed cases and the infection fatality ratio.

“For large organisations that want to monitor their internal Covid-19 situation, it is vital to have high quality data available in the form of electronic health records, as well as solid data governance that supports continuous data analysis while preserving data privacy and compliance with data protection regulations,” adds Delva.

But models or solutions that work in other countries might not work for South Africa. The UK for instance, does have rapid antigen tests for self-testing as part of office access protocols. But in South Africa, the tests have not been approved for self-use.

The way forward for organisations

In order to find themselves in the best position, organisations need to have effective and efficient preventative strategies, with minimal disruption and commitment from all its stakeholders.

With regards to obtaining accurate, useful health data, organisations need well trained staff who understand the value of high quality data. They also need user-friendly, efficient systems with built-in quality assurance and data that can be linked and traced.

Benefits of good health data and analytics

Having data analytics in place enables organisations to identify people whose recovery is falling behind. It also means that organisations will be able to precisely measure changes that come over time and which preventative strategies work.

Delva concludes, “Visualising data and results from mathematical and statistical models takes the guessing and emotions out of the decision-making process, and replaces it with a transparent and constructive practice of making evidence-based decisions, while still acknowledging sources of uncertainty.”