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COVID-19 Briefing - Friday, July 17th

Hot spots, masks, sick kids, and more...

Today’s Recap:

  • New hotspots in our client base:  TX and FL remain by far the highest case counts but Southern California, OH, MO, WI and MN popped up with rapidly growing cases.  
  • Among the many, many things we did not expect to be talking about in 2020 are online conspiracy theories tracing? Kaiser had a good article recently about what contact tracers really do.
  • Rashes on the skin and in the mouth may be a symptom of COVID-19 according to a small study out of Spain. We’re not yet recommending that you ask about them, but we’re monitoring the situation and will continue to update our wellness check surveys and exclusion chart as new evidence arises about COVID. 
  • Hospitals have been ordered to bypass the CDC and send all coronavirus patient info to a central database in Washington, raising questions about transparency according to the NYT. 
  • Medicare & Medicaid will deliver testing kits to nursing homes across the country, which account for large percentages of the case count and deaths in the US.
  • Earlier reports that blood type may drive severity of COVID illness were debunked by a new NIH study
  • Travel restrictions are changing fast making them difficult to keep up with. With so many vacationers, restrictions may change while they’re away, impacting their return to work. Check out this updating list: Coronavirus Travel Restrictions and Bans Globally.

Best Questions:

Someone has been out for 10 or 14 days, got tested, and still doesn’t have their results back. Can they return anyway if they are symptom-free?

Yes, as long as the employee has no symptoms and has completed their full 10 or 14 day exclusion for close contact, they may return. There have been testing delays and we are seeing this often!

Our team hates wearing masks. Can we offer any sort of face shield instead?

Short answer, no. Face shields are less effective than masks because they don’t prevent droplets from spreading in the same way. The virus can linger in tiny, aerosolized droplets in the air, and through larger droplets from coughing, sneezing, talking, singing, etc.  Face shields do not provide the same coverage to prevent those droplets from escaping. Face masks are the best option. In the rare case that someone has a legitimate medical reason for being unable to wear a mask, a full face shield that wraps around the sides of the head and goes from forehead to below the chin is the next best alternative. These tiny clear “masks of glory” that we are all getting instagram ads for are NOT effective against the spread of...well...anything.

We notice the ICU bed availability in our area is very low. At what point do you believe employers should consider modifying or stopping operations based on this metric?

Great question, and a tough one! If your business doesn’t have any patterns of positive COVID cases, we tend toward letting local and state officials make the tough decisions about when businesses need to close. But if you have multiple positive cases, many excluded employees due to close contact, and you’re operating very understaffed - that’s when you want to be careful to ensure that you’re communicating the importance of reporting exposure and symptoms. We’ve seen cases where managers and employees, feeling the crunch of being understaffed, work after getting sick or being exposed, and that puts them over the edge in terms of excluding too many staff to operate effectively.  At the end of the day, we think you should be excluding employees consistently and conservatively, and when doing that leads to being understaffed, that’s when it might be time to consider pulling back to reduced operations or a temporary closure. 

We can’t keep our employees 6ft apart in our space. What should we do?

Working within six feet of each other at this time is not recommended, per the CDC guidance.  However, when it is unavoidable, it is critical that the employees complete wellness checks, are masked, and likely should rotate every ten minutes (with an alarm or reminder) to reduce risk.  This isn't ideal and the 15 minutes consecutive contact hasn't been studied closely yet.

Why are parents of sick kids sometimes excluded from work?  Kids still get sick with things other than COVID.

Good question and a challenging one.  Early on in the COVID crisis, there was widespread info that children weren’t getting COVID.  As the case count grew, more children have gotten sick  - although some  less severely and presenting with symptoms that don’t include fever, cough or shortness of breath.  Pediatricians generally are not performing COVID testing. And children are often more likely to not be able to describe some symptoms like loss of taste or smell.  While it may seem overly conservative to exclude parents from work when kids are sick with what wasn’t diagnosed as COVID, that is often the safest route while we are continuing to see COVID surging. 

If we don’t find out about an exposure until day 12, do we exclude the close contact for just those last two days of the 14 days?

Good question and a judgement call.  Most of our clients are not excluding at that point since so much time has already passed. But there is clearly some minor risk in not doing so.

Best Read:

Thanks to Florence Fabrikant and the NYT for recognizing the launch of SafeEats and our work together to make guests feel safe coming back to NYC restaurants.

A New Sticker Aims to Signal Safe Dining in the Pandemic

Best Laugh: 

Well ...not really funny, but sums up our week.  

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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.