Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Helping Healthcare Workers and Creating Safe Workspaces

U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, explains how to create a safe and healthy work environment during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.


Air Date: August 26, 2021

Moderator: Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General, United States of America

As the COVID-19 Delta variant spreads across the United States, cases are spiking and hospitalization rates are increasing. However, the FDA has recently approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, as recent studies show it, along with the other coronavirus vaccines, prevents severe cases.

Aiding in the efforts to combat the Delta variant, Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General, commands a uniform service of 6,000 dedicated public health officers aiding the underserved and vulnerable populations both domestically and abroad. Dr. Murthy previously served in the Obama administration, where he assisted in leading the response to the Ebola and Zika viruses, the opioid crisis and more.

Dr. Murthy shared insights about the importance of reducing the stress of healthcare workers and wearing masks in indoor spaces, and how to create a safe and healthy work environment during and after the pandemic.

Reducing Healthcare Workers’ Stress Is Critical

Murthy said he’s “incredibly worried” about the stress the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on healthcare workers, noting that even before the pandemic, there was a high rate of burnout and suicide among doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers nationwide.

“They're running out of gas … and that worries me for so many reasons,” said Murthy. “They've been our heroes during this larger COVID response … [and] we need our healthcare workers, not just to take care of those who may get COVID in the days and weeks and months ahead, but also to take care of all the other medical conditions that people come in with.”

“We are at risk of compromising our ability to care for our population if we do not do something about the burnout and the exhaustion that we're seeing in our healthcare worker profession,” he continued. “The most immediate step that we can take is to try to get people vaccinated quickly.”

Employers Should Focus on Creating Healthy and Safe Work Environments

Many employers are deciding whether or not to require COVID-19 vaccinations upon return to the workplace or ask for employee self-attestation. Murthy acknowledged the hesitation many employers may have to mandate vaccinations, including the fear of losing workers.

“Your employees and the talent that you bring in … [are] the most important asset that you have, and to lose talent is a huge loss and huge cost for a business,” Murthy noted. “But I would also consider … the flip side of it, which is how employees may react to a workplace that they don't feel is sufficiently safe for them.”

“With COVID, we've seen just the profound difference between indoor and outdoor spread — that's really due to ventilation,” explained Murthy. “And so the efforts that now are taking place in schools and workplaces to improve this are ones that are going to help us make our workplaces safer.”

Masks Should Be Worn in Indoor Spaces for Now

As the delta variant is highly transmissible, there are breakthrough cases happening in the vaccinated. While these cases are usually mild, people are still able to transmit the virus to those around them, said Murthy. This is why masks are important to have in indoor spaces, he continued.

“Keep in mind, the purpose of getting vaccinated is to save your life and keep you out of the hospital so that even if you do have a breakthrough infection, you're not likely to die from it,” Murthy explained. “That's the purpose of the vaccine.”

“For right now, just given how widely the Delta variant is spreading, given the fact that people with breakthrough infections can transmit it, it's important for us to be cautious and to use those masks, especially when we're in indoor spaces…. regardless of our vaccination status,” he added.



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