What Occupational Health Professionals can Learn from India

COVID-19 infection rates in the US are significantly down, but there are a few states that are having a resurgence in infection, and that are re-implementing COVID-related restrictions.  With vaccination rates increasing, what makes the difference between states that are succeeding in stemming the tide of infections, and those that are reverting back to business closures and related challenges?

More Than Just Injury Care.

At Work Health Solutions, we believe that occupational health requires more than just treating injuries.  With our Healthy Worker PyramidSM , we look at the full scope of challenges impacting your workplace, including challenges coming from outside your premises.  We even look at global and regional issues that may impact your workplace.  So what can we learn from India?

A Comparison of COVID Experience in India and the US.

India is roughly 1/3 the size of the US, but has a population that is roughly 1 billion people larger than the US.  The US has roughly 330M people, to India’s 1.32B.  In other words, the population density of India is significantly higher.  There are more people, packed more closely together.  Increases in population density make it easier for COVID to spread.

If you review COVID infection rates in the US and India, both countries experienced sharp spikes in 2020, leading to significant rates of infection and death.  Both countries responded with restrictions—business closures, travel restrictions, mask requirements and related rules.  Both countries experienced reductions in infection rates and death, as a direct result of those rules.  What happened, and when?

Early Indian Interventions Were Effective.

In India, infection rates peaked at roughly 100,000 new cases per week in September.  After that, their restrictions were effective in stemming the flow of infections.  India’s early response to COVID-19 was even more effective than the US response.  However, with the significant reductions in infections, India rolled back many of their restrictions towards the start of 2021.  Public adherence to COVID restrictions dropped sharply.  India does not have widespread COVID vaccination, and currently, only 3.4% of the population is fully vaccinated.

But Indian COVID Regulations Were Rolled Back too Soon.

Starting in February, Indian COVID-19 infection rates started to rise.  By March, they were on a stratospheric trajectory, and current infection rates are nearly 400,000 new cases per week.  The news is filled with stories of mass funeral pyres, to handle the bodies of COVID victims.  In other words, when the COVID restrictions stopped being enforced and followed, infection and death rates skyrocketed.  While India has a broad healthcare system, it does not have the capacity to deal with current infection rates, and the death rates are soaring.

The US was not as Effective Early on.

The US was not as effective at implementing immediate, nationwide restrictions in response to COVID 19.  When India peaked at roughly 100,000 cases per week in August and then had a decline in infections, the US stayed on a low boil from Spring of 2020 until November of 2020.  In November, infection rates in the US spiked and continued on a generally upward trajectory until December, 2020, when rates peaked at 250,000 infections per week.  Nationwide, the US started to be relatively effective in stemming the flow of infections.

At that point, the US had relatively consistent COVID restrictions across the country, and infection rates dropped sharply.  That timing corresponded with the start of mass-vaccination programs in the US.  At present, the US has a full vaccination rate that is fully ten times greater than India’s.  The trend of COVID-19 infections in the US is on a downward/stable trajectory.  States have started to relax COVID-related rules.

Interestingly, there are a few states in the US that are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, and that are implementing more restrictive COVID-19 rules.

What is the occupational health lesson to be learned here?

Workplaces Must Remain COVID-conscious, Even as Infection Rates Drop.

There is a strong correlation between: 1) implementing and adhering to COVID-19 regulations; and, 2) reducing COVID-19 infection rates.  When we think COVID-19 is going away and we relax all of the restrictions, COVID-19 will have a resurgence (until we have an incredibly strong vaccination program in place).

As we think about workplace responses to COVID-19, it is critical to maintain vigilance.  Keep social distancing, mask-wearing and sanitization practices in place.  They are the key to maintaining a healthy workforce while vaccination programs are ongoing.  We are seeing great success in our fight against the pandemic, but we are not yet at a stage where we can declare victory and stop fighting.

Contact us today, to find out more about effective workplace policies to address COVID-19, and to find more ways to keep your workforce safe, healthy and productive.

Dean Frieders

Dean Frieders

Chief Solutions Officer