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COVID-19 Policy Updates And Implications For The Workplace – Employment and Workforce Wellbeing



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On August 11, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) issued updated COVID-19 guidance “to help people
better understand their risk, how to protect themselves and others,
what actions to take if exposed to COVID-19, and what actions to
take if they are sick or test positive for the virus.” The
changes to existing policies reflect CDC’s recognition of the
significant protection against severe illness and death from the
combination of vaccinations, therapeutics and prior infections
across the country. Nevertheless, the updated guidance has
important safety implications for employers and workers. This
policy alert summarizes these important revisions while also
providing an update to our prior alert, “Life After Omicron: Critical COVID-19 Policy Areas
to Watch in the Weeks Ahead
.”

Summary of CDC Updates

The updated CDC guidelines, found here in their entirety, reflect changes across
three areas. In particular, they:

Vaccines and Therapeutics

  • Continue to recommend vaccination with up-to-date boosters for
    all persons.

  • Recommend pre-exposure prophylaxis with Evusheld antibody
    product for moderately or severely immunocompromised individuals
    who may not mount an immune response or for persons who cannot
    receive the vaccine.

  • Recommend antiviral medications and/or monoclonal antibodies
    for persons at increased risk for severe illness to include older
    adults, unvaccinated persons and those with certain medical
    conditions.

  • Recommend that persons at risk make a pre-emptive plan to
    access testing and treatment should they get infected.

Prevention Strategies

  • Recommend continuous monitoring of COVID-19 Community Levels
    (low, medium and high) to guide prevention efforts using a
    risk-based framework. This includes the continuing use of masks by
    all persons, regardless of vaccination status, in indoor
    areas.

  • No longer differentiate between prevention strategies based on
    vaccination status as
    estimates
    indicate that 90-95 percent of the U.S. population
    now has some level of measurable antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2
    virus.

  • Do not recommend routine screening of populations, including
    employee groups, with the exception of high risk congregate
    settings such as nursing homes, homeless shelters or prisons.

Isolation and Exposure Management

  • Recommend that symptomatic or infected persons isolate
    immediately, remain in isolation for at least five days and wear a
    well-fitting mask or respirator when around others.

  • Note that infected persons can end isolation after five days
    only if they have been fever free for at least 24 hours (without
    the use of medication) and other symptoms have improved. However,
    such individuals should continue to wear a mask at all times
    through day 10 unless using rapid antigen testing to clear
    isolation early.

    • If individuals want to discontinue isolation before day 10,
      they should take a rapid antigen test on day 6 or later and should
      be without any fever for least 24 hours; they should also take at
      least two tests 48 hours apart. To stop masking, the results of
      both tests should be negative.


  • Recommend cessation of contact tracing in employer settings
    with the exception of health care settings and high risk congregate
    settings. In all other circumstances, the CDC advises that public
    health efforts focus on notifying individuals potentially exposed
    to COVID-19 and providing them with accurate information and
    testing resources.

  • Recommend that persons who have had recent confirmed or
    suspected exposure to an infected person should wear a mask for 10
    days around others when indoors in public and should receive
    testing five days after exposure (or sooner if they are
    symptomatic), regardless of vaccination status.

  • Quarantining of exposed persons, regardless of vaccination
    status, is no longer recommended.

Implications for the Workplace

This area requires close attention for employers and workplace
supervisors concerned about liability and personal injury. Although
the CDC guidelines are recommendations and not mandatory legal
requirements, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety
Administration (OSHA) has typically looked to CDC guidance in
establishing workplace expectations on employers. For example, in
its current guidance document, “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and
Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace
,” OSHA
states that the CDC guidance is “intended to help employers
and workers who are located in areas of substantial or high
community transmission.” OSHA has also noted that it will look
to the CDC’s COVID-19 guidance around the use of masks and
other protective measures, for example, to evaluate whether an
employer is providing work and a workplace “free from
recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or
serious physical harm,” within the meaning of OSHA’s General Duty Clause. So while the updated CDC
guidance does not have the force of law, employers should expect
that OSHA will continue to use it to evaluate employer safety and
health compliance efforts related to COVID-19.

Conclusion

In our prior policy alert, we advised recipients to
continue monitoring hospitalizations and health system utilization,
two of the metrics that drive CDC Community Levels. At this time,
those metrics appear to be improving, as has access to vaccinations
and therapeutics. It remains an open question, however, which
direction the pandemic will trend as we head into the fall and
winter.

With vaccine manufacturers preparing to deliver updated booster
shots in the next few weeks, news of an upcoming summit at the
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on August 30 to
discuss shifting of the federal response to the private market, and
Dr. Fauci preparing to step down as the Director of the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) this December,
it is clear that the U.S. is headed into a new phase of the public
health emergency. While the updated CDC guidelines are a promising
sign that we are approaching the end of the pandemic phase of
COVID-19, there continue to remain critical policy guidelines that
can affect stakeholder interests in the months ahead.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

POPULAR ARTICLES ON: Coronavirus (COVID-19) from United States



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