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Tending to mental health, workplace changes among priorities for adults as society opens up

Getting back into a routine after the pandemic means taking a look at different aspects of life that it has impacted, like the workplace. Sponsored by Premera.

While life is slowly phasing back to normal, we're not out of the woods just yet.

Like the previous winter, we can expect a surge in coronavirus cases this winter, Dr. Ali Mokdad with the University of Washington said.

"But because we are vaccinating a lot of people, we're not going to see a high number of mortality," he said. "People are protected and we will not see a rise and admission to hospitals like what we have seen in the past."

This is good news, but not great, which is why the medical community is laser-focused on those who are hesitant to get the vaccine. Dr. Vin Gupta from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation said 50 percent of the population is vaccinated and believes the majority of those who are not can be convinced through engagement.

"In talking to workforces, young and old across the country, I think there's another 25 to 30 percent that are reachable,” he said. “And yet, there’s probably about 15-20 percent that are just not going to get it.”

Those who are skeptical of the vaccine have answerable questions, Dr. Gupta said. There is a lot of worry in younger people about what they’re hearing and what’s being written about on the internet.

“Active small group engagement on these questions is vital,” he said.

The false starts with the Johnson and Johnson and Astra-Zeneca vaccines did not help to ease fears. Now the World Health Organization is calling vaccine hesitancy a global threat.

Dr. Mokdad explained this to be a major concern as many people are refusing the vaccine. The percentage of people who are refusing the vaccine is increasing.

It’s a constant battle to fight vaccine myths and misinformation online.

“We have to address this, we have to ask people when you get a piece of information, don't look at who sent it to you, look at where it originated, and what is behind it,” Dr. Mokdad said. “And that's very important for all of us to do.”

Curating a list of people that you can trust on social media for a real-time source of information, is a tip Dr. Gupta has for others.

And while scientists are battling rumors, new strains of COVID-19 are sneaking up on us. The variants are evolving fast, so as we forge ahead, Dr. Mokdad said, it is important to stay safe and even think about hanging on to your mask.

“I will keep wearing my mask because I know this virus is deadly,” he said. “And if you let down your guard, it will come back with a vengeance.”

That reality has some people nervous to return to old routines and the workplace.

"Well, we're going to need to be really flexible about thinking about our workspaces as we move forward,” Jamie Teevan, chief scientist for Microsoft’s experiences and devices said. “And actually, you see, something like two-thirds of businesses are actually reconfiguring their spaces for hybrid work. So there's a lot of thinking that we're going to need to do. The big challenge is we don't know what it's going to look like.”

Teevan has done a lot of research on the process of going back to work, and what a hybrid model might entail.

The research shows the ideal amount of time to work from home is about two and a half days a week, she said.

“After about two and a half days a week at home, you start losing some of the social connections that you get from interaction,” Teevan said. “You see job satisfaction peak for people who work remotely at about 15 hours a week.”

Her team at Microsoft has spent hundreds of hours pouring over information generated from employee surveys, telemetry data, and customer panels, discovering the pros and cons of working in an office versus working from home.

There are a lot of benefits to remote work in terms of what you’re able to get done, Teevan said. With fewer distractions, people get more done.

“It’s really good for that focused work,” she said. “It’s less good for the new ideas, the collaboration, the spontaneous conversations that we have. We've all been socially isolated for the past year. And that's highly correlated with productivity.”

While it would be nice to work without the distractions at home, experts are still worried about our level of isolation. There is no denying that the weight of the pandemic has taxed our ability to cope. Along with the coronavirus, depression, anxiety, and fear have infected our nation, and there is no vaccine for that.

To succeed in and out of our workplace, Dr. Gupta said, mental health care must be paramount. Providing or embedding access to therapy and mental health services in the workplace or a virtual environment is going to be needed now more than ever.

“Re-acclimating to normal life, it's going to be hard for some people, it's going to be really hard,” he said. “So, we need to anticipate those challenges.”

If you or someone you know is struggling or in need of support, click here for our list of local and national mental health resources

Sponsored by Premera as part of The Way Forward. Segment Producer Joseph Suttner. Watch New Day Northwest 11 AM weekdays on KING 5 and streaming live on KING5.com. Contact New Day.