Thursday, September 24, 2020

Coronavirus Update 9-24-2020: Comorbidities, Covid-19, and your employees

Let's talk about comorbidities. A comorbidity is the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. In the case of COVID-19, certain comorbidities are known to increase one's risk for a more severe illness.

According to the CDC, people with any of the following underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus

Additionally, people with any the following might be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19:

  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus

What does this mean for you and your employees? It means that for the duration of this pandemic, you likely need to maintain two sets of work rules—one for employees with comorbidities and one for those without. Employees with one of the listed underlying disabilities (or pregnant employees) might need an exception in an in-person work requirement or attendance policy, a separate work area, or more frequent breaks to remove a mask. 

It does not, mean, however, that you can force or mandate a separate set of rules on disabled or pregnant employees who do not request them. The law does not allow employers to impose paternalist policies on these employees. In fact, the workplace discrimination hate paternalism. Good intentions do not excuse discrimination. An employer acting from a place of good intentions to protect disabled or pregnant workers from a potentially deadly exposure of COVID-19 is still discriminating if that's not the employee's choice. Only the employee can make that choice.