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COVID-19 Briefing - Tuesday, 11/10

Vaccine production updates and more

Today's Recap:

  • We passed the 10 Million mark for confirmed COVID+ cases in the US today.
  • Utah mandated masks, El Paso, Texas needs refrigerated morgue trucks, New York is headed toward a second surge, and 44 states and Puerto Rico have high transmission rates.
  • As you’ve probably heard, one vaccine has “more than 90% efficacy” according to the companies producing them, Pfizer and BioNTech. We are still cautiously optimistic because there’s still very little data released about these.
  • President-Elect Biden named some of the folks for a new Coronavirus Task Force.  Our good friend Dr. Mike Osterholm is among them.
  • Delaware had great results with stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, and contact tracing: 82% decline in cases, 88% decline in hospitalization, and 100% decline in mortality from late April to June, according to the MMWR
  • And in case you thought it was only your industry...36 doctors are in quarantine after a halloween party where a party guest was COVID+. We really saw the fallout of Halloween parties this week in our daily wellness checks, and think you should brace for post-Thanksgiving and holiday party exclusions, too.
  • In a not yet published report, it was confirmed that masks are best at preventing transmission when worn by the virus spreader. We wear masks to protect others, and they wear masks to protect us.
  • “Now is the time” to develop a strategy for testing asymptomatic COVID cases, says CDC director Redfield.
  • We’ve learned more about vaccine distribution plans from the CDC.  Here’s a link to the playbook if you want a deeper dive.
  • Both vaccines nearing the end of Phase 3 trials require extremely cold storage. This means they won’t likely be distributed to doctor’s offices for some time, maybe never.
  • Vaccines production may begin in December and vaccinations could start before the New Year.
  • The first vaccine doses will go to health care providers, then those most at risk (seniors, those with severe medical conditions).  That translates to the first 87 million doses produced.
  • These will be two dose vaccine series, with the second dose 21 (Pfizer) or 28 (BioNTech) days after the first. We don’t yet have any info about how long immunity takes to develop after vaccination (or after one or both doses).

Best Questions:

How are other employers handling when an employee lies on the daily wellness check?

This is something we’re starting to see more often.  When an employee lies to be cleared to work, and works with symptoms or after knowingly exposed to someone COVID+, that’s a relatively clear-cut situation which many of our clients consider a terminable offense. There is little that works better to encourage other employees to be truthful than knowing that they may be suspended or terminated if they’re caught out in a lie that puts their colleagues at risk.

A trickier situation is when employees say they have symptoms or exposure and then recant their story once they hear that they’ll need to stay out for 10-14 days. One thing that we’re doing here at ZHH and Zedic when that happens is making sure that we get in writing that they lied about their symptoms and confirmation that they have had zero symptoms. Even then, we wait to clear that employee until a manager takes a look and makes a final decision - many times, managers will make the call to keep that person out based on the unreliable story they’ve told.

My employees keep having parties and we keep needing to exclude large groups of employees.  Is there messaging about these risks that is resonating?  Can we discipline employees who participate?

Whether you can discipline employees who attend parties is a question for your legal team, but there’s definitely messaging you can use. From the Rockefeller Foundation’s excellent testing and tracing Message Handbook we have some great tips about what works:

  • Use “social proof”—evidence of others taking the same action. “Hundreds of our team members are staying home every day to keep each other safe.”
  • Emphasize that this is to protect others— especially those you love, respect or empathize with. “Social distancing and avoiding crowded indoor events like parties is the best way to protect your friends and coworkers and their families”
  • Create a sense of responsibility, not shame. “Think of your team members on your most recent shift - they’d take action to protect you.”

Our exclusions have skyrocketed with this surge.  Is there any way to get anyone back earlier than 14 days for close contact exposure?

We are seeing an increasing pattern of those people getting sick relatively early during their 14-day quarantine period, and therefore the exclusion is shortened to 10 days from onset (or + test).  But the real answer is that there’s not really a good way to get quarantined people back earlier. Testing still doesn’t provide a path to earlier return. Someone can test negative on Day 4 and then positive on Day 9 (or 12 or 14), so unfortunately the only way to really break a cycle of illness in your business/community is to keep exposed people out for a full 14 days from their exposure to an infectious person. Letting people work before their 14 days of quarantine is up means that you will inevitably have situations where exposed people work, become infectious, and spread the virus to others.

Should we be suggesting employees who have symptoms get tested?

Our recommendation is still to be cautious before recommending or requiring as an employer that someone gets tested. It can be complicated, and should probably be run by your legal counsel. Generally, we tell individual employees who ask our clinical team if they need to be tested that testing is an individual decision, and to consult their doctor and CDC guidelines. CDC does recommend that people with COVID symptoms get tested. It's important to note that a negative test usually doesn’t allow someone to return to work sooner, because there is still a high false negative rate for COVID-19 tests.

Best Read:

A recent study projected that universal mask-wearing in the US could save 130,000 lives by the end of February. This article from Stat takes a look at seat belt and helmet laws, and how the same questions of freedom and public health played out.

How might a mask mandate play out? Look to the battle over seat belt laws

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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.