Over the past year, we have learned an incredible amount about COVID-19 and how to mitigate transmission. With vaccines beginning to become more and more available, it can be tempting to abandon all protocols in favor of returning to “normal.” We are all anxious for COVID-19 restrictions to be a thing of the past, but experts warn that it is critical, now more than ever, to continue to follow guidelines and proceed with caution. What does this look like for workplaces that have been open or are hoping to reopen soon?
In terms of guidance, both the CDC and OSHA offer recommendations for employers to keep their employees safe at work. We can also learn from instances where outbreaks at workplaces did happen and try to prevent future occurrences. To understand what guidelines to follow and what mitigation steps should be taken, we first need to know where we are in the COVID-19 pandemic and what the future may look like.
“Although trials of a number of vaccines indicate they can protect against severe illness even when they do not prevent infection with the variant, most of the world has not been inoculated. That means even people who had recovered and thought they were safe for now might still be at risk, and that world leaders might, once again, be lifting restrictions too soon.”
The P.1 variant from Brazil illustrates the need to continue mitigation efforts in part to give the SARS-CoV-2 virus less opportunity to mutate into more dangerous variants.
In addition to concerns over emerging variants, stories continue to pop up about workplace outbreaks. One such example is the outbreaks at the Smithfield Foods owned Farmer John pork processing plant in Los Angeles County that have resulted in nearly half of the plant’s workforce becoming infected with COVID-19, including 5 people who have died. In January alone, the plant reported more than 300 cases. According to a recent Gallup poll, U.S. workers’ satisfaction with workplace safety has dropped significantly due to the pandemic—down 17 percentage points In households with income less than $75,000. Workplace safety concerns and outbreaks are not a problem unique to the United States. In Sweden, since the start of 2021, “almost 10,000 Covid-related incidents have been reported to the Work Environment Authority, where staff have been exposed to the virus at work, including more than 1,000 in the first week of March alone.”
With vaccines on the way, worrisome variants, and the potential for cases rising as more people return to workplaces, what should employers do now to stay ahead of the curve?OSHA recommends implementing administrative controls such as:
Develop policies and procedures for employees to report when they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
Encourage employees to report to management if they have been in close contact with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
Notify employees of possible or confirmed work exposure.
Instruct employees who do not feel well or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to stay home.
The CDC similarly suggests that employers consider daily in-person or virtual health checks of employees before entering the workplace. While not a guarantee for completely eliminating COVID-19 risk in the workplace, pre-screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms is an essential step for lowering the risk of exposure for all employees. One complicating factor is that people can be pre-symptomatic and still contagious. Another is that some people infected are asymptomatic and never develop symptoms. Different studies offer estimates of asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 account for anywhere from 17%-45% of total cases. As a result, there must be other measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and screening questions to extend beyond solely symptoms.
In order to remain in line with guidelines from the CDC and OSHA, employers need to have steps in place to prevent COVID-19 from spreading at work, including implementing symptom checks and assessing other risk factors.
QuantaSTAT for Teams’ employee screening solution can help you eliminate the hassle of pre-screening your employees and take control of your workplace mitigation efforts.