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Employers are once again finding themselves in the difficult position of implementing effective COVID-19 mitigation strategies while trying to manage the politics surrounding this latest wave of increasing Coronavirus case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The emerging dominance of the Omicron BA.5 variant, shown to be the most transmissible yet, has not only seen a rapid rise in infections, but a doubling of hospitalizations since May. During the week of July 4-10, more than 5.7 million new cases were reported – a 6% increase compared to the previous week. The latest number of new COVID deaths is reported to be up to more than 9,800 weekly.
Prompted by this development, the White House just issued a new fact sheet outlining its strategy to manage BA.5, including boosters:
- Free testing
- Free masks
- Ventilation and filtration improvements implemented through the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge
Actions employers should take immediately:
Have a Written COVID-19/Infectious Disease Policy.
Even if your business has never adopted a written COVID-19 plan, it’s never too late to document the policies you have in place to keep employees safe from any infectious disease. This is especially important when considering future changes in infection rates in different communities. Work with counsel and/or a safety professional to write down what you are doing to keep employees healthy in response to COVID-19 or any other infectious disease. This will also aid in training employees about your safety programs.
Engage with Your Employees.
The companies that thrived during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic are those that communicated with, listened to, and engaged their workforce. Ask non-managers for feedback on company policies. Listen and address concerns through tasks like safety committees, audits, and safety improvement projects. Always provide a transparent workplace where employee concerns are truly considered.
Clean the Workplace.
Employees are happier, feel safer, and are more productive in a clean work area they can take pride in. Having a clean business will also mean OSHA inspectors will feel more confident in your workplace management policies and less likely to spend time looking for safety violations. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated employee interest in a clean workplace, which they will rightfully demand in the future.
Should businesses be mandating masks again?
CDC guidance on masking, quarantining, and isolation remains unchanged from March 2022.
A) Mandate masks in areas of high community spread. Employers in areas of high COVID-19 community levels of transmission should consider keeping mask requirements in place or reinstating mask mandates. For national employers, this may mean different policies in different locations, which can create logistical and communication issues. Recognize that you could open yourself up to an OSHA inspection or a General Duty Clause citation if mask mandates were dropped too quickly or taken away in a high-risk setting.
B) The CDC has somewhat downplayed their concerns in the use of cloth masks, emphasizing instead “fit and filtration” – such as respirators (N95s and KN95s), or using a surgical mask layered with a cloth mask. However, employers should be aware that requiring use of N95s or KN95s in the workplace comes with additional OSHA obligations.
C) The CDC guidance states that a fully vaccinated employee (or one who has had COVID-19 within the last 90 days) who has had close contact with someone with COVID-19 and has no symptoms, they should wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days and get tested five days after the exposure. If symptoms develop or the employee tests positive, they must isolate for at least five days from that positive test result or the onset of symptoms. Employees may end isolation after the fifth day when they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and their symptoms are improving. Those employees that are not up to date with their vaccines have the additional hurdle of quarantining for five days after close contact, along with the same testing and masking requirements.
Employers are always one of the first places to feel the impacts of every COVID surge, with obligations to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS,) as well as state and local health departments. Businesses should continue to be vigilant in implementing protocols to combat the seemingly endless COVID variant surges.
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A New Path to HR Bliss – Trusted for more than 30 years, Employer Advantage frees you from the administrative and compliance burdens of having employees so you can focus on your business success. Versatile enough for companies of all sizes, our unique service combines comprehensive management of your employee administration and compliance with the latest software solutions, tailored to meet your individual needs and company culture. Our full-service management of Human Resources, payroll, health and benefits, workplace safety, and more enhances your profitability while reducing the costs and risks associated with employment law compliance. We provide your employees with top-notch assistance and benefits that help you increase productivity, save time and money, and attract and retain a talented workforce. And for small and mid-sized businesses, we bring you economy of scale with access to Fortune 500-level benefits, specialty assistance, and savings that would not be possible to attain on your own. Headquartered in the Midwest and serving more than 500 companies and 10,000 worksite employees throughout the country, Employer Advantage is an IRS-Certified Professional Employer Organization (PEO) (CPEO). Experienced, certified, and trusted. www.EmployerAdvantage.com
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