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COVID-19 Briefing - Tuesday, 12/1

Vaccination begins with new challenges and questions for employers

Today's Recap:

  • We’re seeing over 200k daily cases and rising, some of which are the results of Thanksgiving celebrations. We expect holiday travel will start up this weekend and contribute to even more spikes.
  • This Korean study covered by the LA Times is scary: the virus can be transmitted in only 5 minutes from 20 feet away indoors.
  • The Moderna vaccine is likely to be approved on Thursday, and millions of additional doses will start being distributed quickly. Even with both vaccines approved, there’s still a huge shortage compared to the total number we’ll need to achieve herd immunity.
  • States face some huge challenges with vaccine distribution. Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, likens it to a “chess game”.
  • And an expected blizzard in the Northeast will further complicate distribution this week
  • States and individual hospitals are working to determine who gets the vaccine first among healthcare workers. This article from Wired does a great job explaining why vaccinating social butterflies may work best to reach herd immunity sooner.
  • The next big issue facing employers and healthcare providers is determining if post-vaccination side effects are due to the vaccine or if someone was just already sick with COVID. Some employees may need a day or two off work after vaccination (especially after the second). The CDC published a new page on What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine to help with this.
  • More is coming out about why vaccinated people still need to wear masks to prevent transmission.
  • Santa brought more than just presents for folks at a Belgian nursing home - he may have infected up to 75 people…
  • Meanwhile, the virus is changing. Over 1000 cases of a new variant have been identified in Britain. Good news is that “it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine” and doesn’t appear to cause any more serious illness. Bad news is that the virus does seem to mutate and spread quickly.
  • Not exactly what we wanted to hear, but Maryland is just one of several states reporting increased Hep A activity and especially high Hep A related hospitalizations
  • Early data shows wearables can catch COVID cases before symptoms arise by tracking increases in heart rate and temperature
  • Last but not least, the FDA approved the first fully at-home over-the-counter rapid COVID test today, authorized for anyone over 2 years old and even for asymptomatic people. They plan to make & deliver 20 million home test kits in the first half of 2021.

Best Questions:

We keep hearing about all these new COVID tests but they don’t seem to yet be available. When do you see additional testing options that are cheaper, quicker, and accurate becoming readily available to employers?

Good question and one we brought to our primary lab partner, LabCorp, in a conference call earlier today.  There are all kinds of new testing options on the horizon - but they are still only on the horizon.  We expect to see many opening up in Q1 of 2021, including rapid saliva tests, at home PCR and antigen tests, and pooled testing.  Pricing remains cost prohibitive for widespread testing.  Employers are all looking for relief through vaccination and testing plans which are expected in the new year, though we’re not sure when. This link to the National Retail Federation’s state vaccination plans is a good tool for seeing how each state is prioritizing your workforce (see the “State Vaccination Plans” section).

My local health department is saying that quarantine for close contact is 14 days and not adopting the CDC’s shorter recommendations.  Which one do we follow?

State and local health departments are the governing body for public health guidelines.  While the CDC may make recommendations, it is up to the state and local public health officials to determine what will be following locally. So we always recommend adhering to state or local health department guidance as long as it’s more cautious than our recommendations.

Employees frequently ask if they need any “approval” for return to work after testing positive or having COVID symptoms.  Should we be requiring return to work testing or clearance?

While there are still a few jurisdictions requiring negative tests to return an employee to work or student to school, the vast majority (including the CDC) are saying anyone who tests positive or experiences COVID symptoms should remain in isolation (and out of work or school)  for ten full days, and can return once fever and other symptoms have improved. The CDC does not suggest re-testing.

Studies show that the viral load drops significantly after ten days to below the infectious level.  It may still be at a detectable level, meaning you might still test positive even if you’re not infectious. That’s why the CDC and most state and local health departments don’t advise requiring a negative test to end self-isolation and return to normal life.

This can be confusing when we hear about sports teams requiring negative tests for return to the game.  Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton’s negative test allowing him to drive in the last race of the season was international sports news. But the return to work post-COVID advice remains: employees who are fever free for at least 24 hours and with other symptoms improved can return to work after ten days and do NOT routinely require a negative test.  

Many student employees who are exposed at school are being told to quarantine for unusually long periods of time. What’s up with this?

Good question and one of the most frequently asked questions this week.  It seems that schools continue to require a full 14 day exclusion for close contact and their exclusion dates are being calculated with the school holiday breaks in mind.   So if someone was exposed on the 7th and the 14 day exclusion has them out until the 21st and school holidays begin on the 23rd, they’re just excluding them through the 23rd. It doesn’t doesn’t make sense to bring them back for one day.  We’re also finding that some kids are confused about their exclusion periods from their schools, and we sometimes ask them to share the email received from the school for clarification.  

Best Read:

This question is one that we’re all considering at this point, especially given the polls showing that 40-50% of Americans wouldn’t take a vaccine when it first becomes available to them.

Should Companies Require Employees to Take the Vaccine?

Best Laugh:

(and this one is really funny).  Thanks to  Emily Thompson of Red Robin who shared with us this amazing fruit cake...2020 Holiday Style.

Look closely and you’ll see this fruit cake is made with Emergen-C gummies and zinc drops. Only 2020 could bring us that...

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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.