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COVID-19 Briefing - Friday, 12/18

Moderna authorized for emergency use, EEOC issues COVID vaccination guidance, & more

Today’s Recap:

  • Case counts continue to skyrocket, with a million new cases in the past 5 days. Available ICU beds are plummeting across the country. 
  • Here’s a shocking stat: 1 in every 80 people in LA County are thought to have active coronavirus right now.  
  • Heading into the holiday travel season, and knowing that millions travelled over Thanksgiving, we expect to see a big surge starting mid-week this week and continuing through January. The CDC is urging people not to travel.
  • Moderna’s vaccine was unanimously recommended for emergency use yesterday, and 5.9 million doses are ready to ship. The FDA and CDC should be giving it the final approval today and tomorrow, respectively. 
  • Meanwhile, Pfizer overfilled their vials, meaning there are actually many more doses out there that are safe to use, according to the FDA - up to 40% more!
  • Vice President Mike Pence received the vaccine on live television this morning to encourage confidence in the vaccine. 
  • Twitter announced it will combat vaccine misinformation starting next week. 
  • 2 Alaskan healthcare workers had allergic reactions to the vaccine. Both are doing well, and one was severe while the other was more mild. Experts expect about one in a million people who are vaccinated may have an allergic reaction, and you should not get the vaccine if you’ve been allergic to other vaccinations or injections in the past. 
  • Watch out for vaccine scammers, officials say. They’re calling and asking for social security and other private info, and they definitely don’t have real access to vaccines. 
  • The EEOC issued updated guidance on employee COVID vaccinationThey said: “If an employee cannot get vaccinated for COVID-19 because of a disability or sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, and there is no reasonable accommodation possible, then it would be lawful for the employer to exclude the employee from the workplace.”  

Best Questions:

Will we still need to socially distance and wear masks after people start to get vaccinated?

Yes.  We anticipate masking  and social distancing will be required through 2021. It will take a long time to vaccinate 75% of Americans (the percentage Dr. Fauci says is needed to really put this behind us).  There are a large number of people (with various allergies in particular) who may not be able to be vaccinated, and likely a large number who will refuse. Plus, it takes approximately 2 weeks after the second dose to be fully immune.  And finally, we don’t yet have evidence that many of these vaccines prevent transmission - they clearly reduce illness and severity of illness. So until we have more info, or everyone is vaccinated, individuals will continue to need to wear masks even after we are vaccinated to protect others. 

We have an employee whose whole family has COVID. Every few days another one tests positive. The employee is still fine. Do we have to exclude him again every time a new family member gets sick?

The brutal answer here is yes, if they can’t isolate away from the sick people in their home. If the employee themself has never tested positive, we have to assume they can still contract COVID and spread it to others. With those who live with many others in a household, this can mean they fall like dominoes over the course of multiple weeks, and the unfortunate truth is that it’s not safe for that person to work until it’s been at least 10 days from the date the last family member recovers from COVID. So unless that employee can stay somewhere else and use a separate bedroom and bathroom, sanitize between uses of any common areas, wear a mask, and stay more than 6ft apart from those in their home, they’re out of luck and need to wait 10 days after the last person has recovered. 

We have a lot of employees who have tested positive, and have lingering symptoms of runny nose, congestion, or sore throat. Can they return to work?

The CDC’s official requirements as of December 1 for returning to work are that it has been 10 days since symptoms first appeared, 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, and other symptoms “are improving.” They’ve changed this wording many times throughout the course of the pandemic. It has previously required that respiratory symptoms were resolved, and other symptoms “improving,” “improved,” and “resolved.” Our guidance remains (especially in food service, retail, and hospitality settings) that we recommend that respiratory and GI symptoms are fully resolved before someone comes to work. Nobody wants their cashier sneezing and coughing, and nobody should work when they have diarrhea or vomiting...basically ever. Other symptoms can persist, though, like loss of taste and smell and congestion. Generally, for fringe symptoms like runny nose, congestion, and sore throat, our recommendations are that symptoms must be improving (getting better day over day), and the person must feel well enough to work. 

We have seen some local health departments continue to require 14 day exclusions for close contact.  Are we required to follow that and do you expect we’ll see this trend continue?

The guidance from the CDC is just that.  It is up to the state and local health departments to regulate these matters in their jurisdictions.  When an employee tells us that the health department or their contact tracer has given them a return to work date that is 14 days out, we defer to that and change their exclusion date to the further date.  However, we are seeing more states adopt the ten day exclusion.  California’s governor signed an executive order adopting the new 10 day quarantine guidance (or 7 days with a negative test).  Connecticut issued similar guidance on Wednesday.  Very few of our clients are even considering the 7 day quarantine with testing model for earlier return to work, unless there are very specific extenuating circumstances (for example, clearing one manager so they can open, or the restaurant’s main meat cutter is out and bringing him back earlier is critical to the business). 

Will we need to see and retain proof of COVID vaccination?

Good question and although we don’t yet know the definitive answer, we suspect the answer will be yes. If not, employees will simply say they did.  We’re especially concerned about employees getting the second dose, since many will not feel well after the first dose (and will hear from their friends that the second dose side effects are more severe). You should plan on needing to see documentation of vaccination and retaining proof. So it's time to line up resources for tracking. You’ll eventually be able to require proof of vaccination for new hires. Many of you have employees who are also healthcare workers who are getting vaccinated now.  Six weeks from now, they will have completed their series and the two week waiting period for immunity, Employees will receive a card (which has their name and date of birth) and documents their vaccination dates. But we know many will lose those, so asking employees to share that documentation early will be key for keeping track of vaccination. 

Best Read:

This is a very interesting read from Buzzfeed about a person’s first hand experience in a vaccine trial. It’s a good reminder to expect and plan for people experiencing symptoms (from mild to flu-like) after each dose of the vaccine! 

I Am A Participant In AstraZeneca's COVID Vaccine Trial

Best Laugh:

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Disclaimer: This post is meant for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute, and is not intended as, any form of medical, legal or regulatory advice or a recommendation or suggestion regarding the same.  No recipient of this information should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.