COVID update: tests, business readiness, ‘new normal’

September 22, 2023 – The bad news: COVID cases have been ticking up.

The good news: Those old COVID tests you have around the house are probably still good; businesses should know how to pivot if infections keep climbing; and, overall, current COVID conditions aren’t nearly as bad as they were even a year ago.

COVID tests

The Food and Drug Administration has been extending expiration dates for some over-the-counter COVID test kits, based on new data from manufacturers. In a September 6 Wall Street Journal article, Rachael Piltch-Loeb, research scientist in the Department of Biostatistics and a fellow in the EPREP (Emergency Preparedness Research Evaluation & Practice) Program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said, “It’s important for people to understand that the reason those expirations existed in the first place is we didn’t have information, just based on the rapid development of testing, on how long the pieces of test were good for. It’s important to check into whether or not the expiration has been updated.”

Check out the FDA text expiration date database to see if your at-home tests are still good.

Business readiness

Even if COVID cases increase, businesses now have more than three years of pandemic-related experience under their belts. “We have tools at our disposal to mitigate the consequences of COVID-19 on the population,” Piltch-Loeb said in a September 13 BBC article. “Businesses have adapted to working in different disease environments … The way work is done has changed for the majority of the workforce.” She said that companies have established remote-work policies and crisis plans, and, in some cases, have updated or added sick leave and parental leave policies. She noted, however, that the situation may be different for essential workers and people in frontline jobs.

‘New normal’

Experts acknowledge that COVID spikes are troubling. The virus still poses a grave threat to those who are immunocompromised and it can trigger long COVID in some. Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology and associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard Chan School, said in a September 10 STAT article that as of mid-September there had been roughly 100,000 COVID deaths, with 3.5 months still left to go in the year.

“And yet, by comparison with what’s happened in the past, [COVID] is so much better,” he added. “And I think we need to hold in our heads the fact that those things are both true.”

Read the Wall Street Journal article: Your Expired At-Home Covid-19 Tests May Still Work

Read the BBC article: Are businesses ready for another wave of Covid-19 cases?

Read the STAT article: Amid another rise in cases, Covid’s new normal has set in