Learn more about how to protect your health and that of your family and co-workers in a lunch and learn sessions with Dr. Timur Durrani and Laurel Davis of EH&S on Monday, Sept. 25 at noon

Why do we talk about viruses so much in the fall?

annual graph of virus occuranceViruses are seasonal, although there is always a virus circulating. Children, for example, will get one common cold per month. But then we have other periods where we have an increase of different respiratory viruses, influenza, coronaviruses, and respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. And that typically begins somewhere around November and concludes sometime in March. 

We’re seeing that because the population had been in near isolation for the previous two years, as people are returning to work, it’s changing some of the patterns of what we had typically seen. And so a few times, we have anticipated respiratory viruses at the beginning of  November, and then we start to see an uptick in July or August.


What is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic?

Epidemics occur reasonably regularly on an annual basis. Epidemics generally tend to be regional, so every year, we anticipate an epidemic around influenza, and that’s why we have our yearly influenza vaccination campaign.

list of pandemicsNot everyone has realized that most of us have lived through several pandemics. Some people may or may not have been affected by them at all. Everybody has been affected by COVID, but in the last 20 years, at least five other pandemics have been declared.

We’re still technically in the pandemic for COVID. The question we often get is, when will it become an epidemic? And the answer is we can’t forecast that.


Why can’t you forecast that?

newspaper headlines about COVIDWhat we are seeing regularly is variants of the COVID virus. 

And now, in 2023, we have a new variant. And some people are calling it the new normal. This is becoming cyclical.


How is COVID now being measured?

The Centers for Disease Control uses hospital admissions in the United States as one measurement. Admissions are trending up.  What does that mean? Are we going to see what we had seen two years ago with hospitals being overrun? I think most people agree that we’re probably not going to see that due to population immunity. But that’s always balanced with – Is this a new variant? Is it more contagious?


What is going to happen this winter?

We’re trying to model the winter using our most recent data.

graph of COVID occurences

What you see in this red line is the anticipated trend. This is around average. There are wide margins of error in the other red shades. 

So the takeaway is we do see an uptake. We are seeing some more hospital rates.

We’re not seeing the deaths in the magnitude of what we saw in the past. We have a sense of who will be at risk, such as those with certain health conditions or at a certain age.

We sometimes get a different level of data now than we had when we had a central lab testing system. That is why it is essential to report any COVID cases. We have recently seen an increase in reports at the Lab, with a few more cases in August than in July.


Do you still want staff at the Lab to report a positive COVID test?

If you have a positive test, please inform Health Services by calling 1-510-486-6266 because we are still tracking that for various regulatory and safety reasons.


What about masking?

Masking requirements at the Lab (or while on official travel) are related to the CDC levels. Even if masking is not required, it is recommended for those with underlying health conditions or anyone who wants to mask. Work areas are still required to make masks available. Please contact your Building Manager or supervisor if you need masks in your work area.


What about vaccines? Are we going to continue to develop vaccines for new variants? 

The vaccine schedule is getting better because it is easier to understand. Just about everybody at the Lab has at least had their primary series because we were complying with the University of California requirements. And then we have a lot of folks who’ve gotten boosted, and others have had a coronavirus infection, which provides some level of protection.


Will the latest COVID vaccines be available at the Lab?

We are trying to get the new vaccines in health services. The just-approved vaccine will likely match the latest variants, and we’re working on getting it at the Lab.


What about the flu vaccine? Is it OK to get both the flu and COVID vaccine at the same time?

We have our annual flu vaccine clinics coming up. They are offered twice weekly at the hill site or Potter Street for six weeks. They begin Oct 3 and run through Nov. 16. Make an appointment at clinic.lbl.gov to schedule and complete the consent form. 

It is OK to get both vaccines at the same time. We recommend one vaccine for each arm for comfort, but there is no reason not to get them both simultaneously. 


What about the RSV vaccine? Who should be getting that?

Getting the RSV vaccine is a decision you should make with your healthcare provider, who will consider your risk for disease and other underlying health concerns.  


What COVID requirements are still in place at the Lab?

All of the things that we instituted starting from 2020 on generally are still in place. It’s still pretty straightforward. If you have symptoms, don’t come on site. We no longer require the symptom checker, but please monitor your health and stay away if you are not well. 

The following items are required (as shown in the chart ): masking when levels are high and in certain other situations, cleaning work areas, hand washing and using hand sanitizer, and training. Even when not required, you can mask at any time. And we have some testing requirements in scenarios where someone may have been exposed to a person with COVID. 

This chart still shows the requirements following both DOE and Cal/OSHA requirements. It is on the webpage covid.lbl.gov.

covid requirement chart

We are in green right now, but the requirements change for yellow and orange. The CDC tracks COVID hospital admission rates into low, medium, and high ranges. We change our safety posture to meet each of those conditions. The COVID website conveniently displays the current CDC level.

If we have someone who has been exposed or thinks they have COVID or tested positive for COVID, you must inform us by calling Health Services at 1-510-486-6266, and then we’ll walk you through all the different health care and regulatory requirements.


Is the Lab still providing on-site testing?

The Lab is not using an outside laboratory like we did earlier. However, the Lab is providing rapid at-home test kits for those exposed to someone with COVID. To request a kit, send an email to covidinfo@lbl.gov. More information is at covid.lbl.gov/testing-at-the-lab.  We have a whole closet full of them.


What about if we have a large group meeting on site and someone later is positive for COVID? What is the notification process?

The Lab has protocols for in-person meetings, including a planning guide with templates for exposure notification to attendees. If you have questions about protocols for meetings, contact us at covidinfo@lbl.gov.




EHS COVID Information