Just when businesses thought COVID was moving into the rearview mirror, the rise in the Delta variant is requiring a reboot of 2020 COVID policies and practices.
We have all heard the COVID-19 Delta variant is on the rise and, according to the CDC, has caused at least 92% of new infections in the U.S. The Delta variant causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of the virus. Though the Delta variant may not be more lethal than the original virus, it might cause more severe illness than previous strains in unvaccinated people. Vaccines continue to be highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death against COVID, including the Delta variant. Fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections from this variant appear to be infectious for a shorter period. The incubation period for the Delta variant is four days, making it more contagious than the original version that had a six-day incubation period. Current CDC guidelines encourage everyone to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors in public spaces to reduce the spread of this variant.
On August 23rd, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine has been known as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, and will now be marketed as Comirnaty (koe-mir’-na-tee), for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older. The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals. This approval is an important step for some people who have elected to wait on the vaccination until it was official approved by the FDA.
President Biden announced on July 29th that federal employees and onsite contractors will be required to attest that they are vaccinated or complete other steps, such as getting tested once or twice a week for COVID-19, wearing a mask while working, and maintain physical distance from other employees and visitors. The President also announced that employers covered by the American Rescue Plan will be reimbursed for providing employees paid time off to take their family members to get vaccinated. He also urged state and local governments to give $100 incentive payments to anyone who gets vaccinated. The State of Colorado is offering $100 Walmart gift cards while supplies last to anyone 12 years and older who receive a first or second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at participating state-operated vaccine sites.
COVID and workplace safety guidelines from federal, state, and local authorities are rapidly changing. Employers may want to review and update their policies related to remote work, return to work, safety, quarantine/isolation, and contact tracing policies, as well determining whether a mandatory vaccination policy is appropriate for your organization. Below are some current guidelines and trends to consider when reviewing your COVID policies:
- Some large employers (i.e., Facebook, Google, Netflix) have revamped their policies to require workers be vaccinated before returning to the worksite due to the surge in coronavirus cases.
- According to Gartner research, fewer than 10% of employers plan to require all employees to be vaccinated.
- SHRM partnered with Harvard Business Review regarding how Houston Methodist Hospitals in Texas developed and mandated a COVID-19 Employee Vaccination Policy and provides a 7-step process to help employers decide whether to mandate vaccinations (See: How to Develop a COVID-19 Employee Vaccination Policy (shrm.org)).
- Employers’ policies must include limited exceptions for workers who refuse a vaccine based on age, religion, or medical conditions.
- Some employers are also considering charging higher premiums to unvaccinated workers like the $20-$50 surcharge many employers already charge workers who smoke. On May 28th the EEOC updated its pandemic guidance to clarify that employers may offer employees (excluding family members) an incentive if they have been vaccinated on their own, and that employers may even offer an incentive to employees for voluntarily receiving a vaccination administered by the employer or its agent, so long as the incentive (whether a reward or penalty) is not “so substantial as to be coercive.”
- Current CDC guidelines regarding vaccinations, masks, and quarantine/isolation:
- Vaccinated people in counties with high rates of COVID-19 transmission should resume wearing masks indoors.
- Vaccinated and unvaccinated people should get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
- If you came into close contact with someone with COVID-19, get tested 3-5 days after the date of your exposure and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.
- Isolate if they have tested positive for COVID-19 in the prior 10 days or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
- Most fully vaccinated people with no COVID-like symptoms do not need to quarantine or be restricted from work following an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 if they follow the testing and masking recommendation above.
- OSHA issued guidance (not regulation subject to enforcement) for employers with respect to COVID-19 on August 13th, following CDC’s recent guidance (indoor mask-wearing, even among the vaccinated). OSHA also suggested employers consider mandating vaccines and require testing for unvaccinated. This guidance does reflect the current trend of requiring masks indoors due to the Delta variant of the virus. OSHA also discusses those workplaces where the transmission risk is higher to consider steps such as staggered shifts, visual cues for maintaining distancing, and implementing strategies to improve ventilation.
- Remember: Timely and Transparent Communication is key to ensure employees know your policies and to encourage employee engagement, trust, and to help alleviate fears. Employees need to know your COVID, vaccination, return to work, remote work, safety, and contact tracing policies and procedures are in place to keep all staff, customers, vendors, and the worksite safe.
- See ILG’s prior articles “ARE YOU READY FOR THIS? RE – ENTRY INTO THE WORKPLACE – PARTS 1-4” for more tips and guidance on re-entry into the workplace.
- There are many other COVID resources available for your organization as you update your policies to ensure you follow applicable federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations:
- Colorado Department of Public Health and Safety – COVID 19 https://covid19.colorado.gov/
- CDC Workplace and Business Guidelines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/workplaces-businesses/index.html
- DOL/OSHA Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace: https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework
- Quarantine and Isolation: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/quarantine.html
- Finding a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.? https://www.vaccines.gov/ or call: 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 888-720-7489)
- Report Vaccine Adverse effects at Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)