Late last Thursday, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccination and testing rules for employers with 100 or more employees. While the pressure of having to comply with a new mandate is gone, the threat of Covid-19 remains as the Omicron variant is driving a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases across the country.
A Message on Covid-19 from WorkSTEPS’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ben Hoffman:
Late last Thursday, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccination and testing rules for employers with 100 or more employees. For the majority of companies we serve the decision was met with a huge sigh of relief. More regulation is rarely a welcome solution to the challenges businesses face.
However, while the pressure of having to comply with a new mandate is gone, the threat of Covid-19 remains as the Omicron variant is driving a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases across the country.
It’s important to acknowledge the good news: 1) Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness; 2) New guidance from the CDC shortens the recommended isolation and quarantine time for people infected with Covid-19, reducing absence days for Covid illnesses; 3) The surge in cases is expected to be short-lived (about three to four weeks once it takes hold in an area); and 4) New treatments have been approved and will become increasingly-available in the coming weeks and months.
Unfortunately, all this good news does little to blunt the dramatic impact Omicron is having on workforce absences at this moment. The question is: What can companies do to reduce the impact Covid-19 will have on their workforces in the next few weeks?
Our advice is to double down on these core prevention tactics, listed in rough order of priority:
1. Provide and require wearing of N95 or KN95 masks in indoor workspaces
2. Provide easy access to Covid-19 tests, encourage testing, and educate employees not to report to work if they have symptoms or test positive
3. Be sure ventilation systems are optimized for Covid-19 prevention
4. Expand or extend work-from-home arrangements as possible
5. Implement social distancing / minimize crowding in indoor spaces
6. Limit business travel to essential trips
7. Encourage employees to limit exposure to Covid-19 outside of work
What about vaccinations? Vaccinations and boosters should be encouraged and supported, but practically speaking, a vaccine received today will do little to protect someone from the current surge. This is not a reason to skip vaccination, but in terms of prioritizing tactics that can impact infection and illness absences in the next three weeks, it’s best to emphasize the tactics above.
We are all hopeful that Omicron will usher in a new phase of this pandemic – that we will move to the “endemic” phase. In the endemic phase, the immunity people receive from vaccination and infection, combined with a widening availability of new and more effective treatment options, will bring the end of urgent spikes in illness, hospitalization, death, and all the accompanying disruptions. Covid-19 will begin to look more like the seasonal flu, and life will return to something more normal.
At WorkSTEPS, we look forward to an end to the pandemic as much as any firm. We are eager to have days when nothing we do has anything to do with Covid-19 but has everything to do with all the other things we do to improve worker health, productivity, and return to work!
Dr. Ben Hoffman