Street Talk

Street Talk: Just call in sick

Reaching out.

February 14, 2020
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While it is difficult for the CDC to predict flu severity, influenza in all its forms is expected to cost U.S. employers over $13 billion in lost productivity this season.

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts 22 million people of all ages nationwide have tested positive for one of the known types of influenza viruses in the 2019-20 season.

High instances of influenza-like illnesses occurred in 45 states and Puerto Rico.

“The coronavirus has not had widespread infection rates in the U.S. However, it is impacting business in other ways. Trade and overseas demand, particularly with China, has slowed as the country is dealing with a nationwide epidemic and a global outbreak,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of global outplacement and business for executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Shipping is taking a hard hit as China battles the virus, as cargo-carrying vessels bringing supplies to China now are earning 93% below what they made during its peak in 2019 and 95% below peak for crude-carrying vessels, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, will be talking to Congress this week about how the coronavirus will impact not only China’s economy but also the U.S. economy.

“While the coronavirus has yet to sicken many Americans, and hopefully, spread of that disease remains contained, the flu season in the U.S. has begun,” Challenger said. “After the severe flu season in 2017-18 affected people across the country, the nation’s employers would be wise to start discussing prevention measures with their workforces if they haven’t already.”

Last year’s flu season sickened over 35.5 million people, down significantly from the 45 million people sickened in 2017-18 season. About 22 million of last season’s flu patients were between the ages of 18 and 75, according to data from the CDC.

This year’s flu season is similar to the 2012-13 season, according to the CDC, which saw 33.7 million people sickened.

Challenger predicts 23.4 million people between 18 and 75 could become ill with the flu this season, using age data from the 2012-13 flu season. With the current employment-to-population ratio of 61.2% and average hourly wage of $28.44, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees taking four eight-hour days away from work due to the flu could cost employers $13,056,764,338.

“To limit this cost, workplaces nationwide must start preparing for the possibility of flu-related absences and take precautions to stymie infections. Encourage workers to wash their hands often and stock soap at all shared sinks and hand sanitizer in other shared spaces. Remind workers to get vaccinated for the circulating flu types and tell sick workers to stay home,” Challenger said.

“Even if this season is more severe, or if the coronavirus does begin to factor into American workplaces, the impact of losing any workers during the flu season is considerable, especially to small and midsize firms that may not have the people to cover absences without disrupting day-to-day business.”

The CDC recently implemented surveillance programs to monitor cases of flu due to the severity of the 2017-18 season.

In addition to recommending workers get their flu shots, employers should consider expanding telecommuting and remote work opportunities if they begin to see the virus spread.

“In the current tight labor market, many employers have already expanded work-from-home opportunities to attract and retain talent,” the CDC said. “Flu season is a good time to promote the use of those options, as it will help keep any infection from spreading.”

The CDC recommends staying home from work four to five days after the onset of symptoms. People are most contagious the three days after symptoms begin.

Making waves

What a difference a day can make, especially for the area’s less fortunate citizens.

WOOD Radio recently finished its Day of Hope fundraiser, in which on-air personalities spend morning drive time (5 a.m.-noon) engaging the public to help Dégagé Ministries.

This is the third year for the benefit, which raised $58,000 over the course of the seven hours. During interviews, listeners heard heartwarming stories of hope from those that patronize and serve Dégagé, as well as encouragement for listeners to call, stop by Dégagé, or donate online to the homeless shelter. The broadcast also originated from Dégagé’s headquarters at 144 S. Division Ave.

“It’s all about giving back to the community in a real and tangible way,” said Phil Tower, iHeart West Michigan program director and longtime West Michigan radio personality. “(The) event demonstrated how we can use the full power of WOOD Radio to lift up and benefit wonderful nonprofits, such as Dégagé Ministries. We are proud to say that we do it with no overhead, meaning 100% of the $58,000 raised goes directly to Dégagé.”

Proceeds from the daylong fundraiser will help fund extended winter hours for the Community Center at Dégagé Ministries, which is essentially a day center that provides food, shelter, programming and community gathering space for area homeless.

“Dégagé is so grateful for the outpouring support of the community and partnership with WOOD Radio,” Dégagé Ministries Executive Director Marge Palmerlee said. “We offer our heartfelt thanks to WOOD Radio for caring about the more than 500 men and women we serve every day, for helping to provide extended winter hours to keep them warm and for sharing our vision of Grand Rapids being a city where all people can thrive.”

Community engagement

Two universities in West Michigan received recognition for community engagement.

Calvin University and Western Michigan University are the only two institutions in West Michigan to receive the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement in 2020 from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

To receive the classification, each institution voluntarily submits an application that provides evidence of community engagement through collaboration with local, regional, national and global communities.

“Community engagement is embedded in our institution’s core identity, strategic direction and practices,” wrote Michael Le Roy, president of Calvin University, in the letter that was included as part of the application for the recognition.

Some of the ways Calvin has partnered with local communities is through the community nursing curriculum, Plaster Creek Stewards, and Project Neighborhood. The Umm El-Jimal project in Jordan is an example of one of Calvin’s longstanding global partnerships.

“Community engagement is a rich opportunity to learn with the community, through the community, and from the community, not merely in the community,” said Gail Heffner, director of community engagement for Calvin University.

A few of Calvin’s more recent initiatives include the Calvin Prison Initiative, a partnership with the Michigan Department of Corrections and Calvin Theological Seminary; H.E.A.L.T.H. Camp, a partnership with local residents and neighborhoods in Grand Rapids; and the interfaith program, a partnership with local places of worship and the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at GVSU.

WMU’s application documented that in one year, faculty, students and staff contributed 1.34 million hours to community-engagement initiatives; partnered with more than 1,500 unique community organizations; and offered 333 credit-bearing, community-based learning courses representing more than 75% of its academic units and programs.

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