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COVID-19 Briefing - Tuesday, 12/1

Emergency meetings for vaccine approval and vaccination order & Fauci warns of a "surge on top of a surge"...

Today's Recap:

  • Dr. Fauci warned of a “surge on top of a surge” after Thanksgiving travel. Dr. Deborah Birx has said for anyone who travelled for Thanksgiving to “you have to assume you were exposed and you became infected.” She recommends quarantine for anyone who travelled or combined households at Thanksgiving.
  • LA County temporarily banned nearly all public and private gatherings this week, adding to the existing ban on in-person dining.
  • Meanwhile the Supreme Court barred NY’s restrictions on religious gatherings this week in a 5-4 decision.
  • CDC’s vaccine advisory committee, the ACIP, attended an emergency meeting today to vote on who gets a vaccine first. We expect them to approve healthcare personnel and residents of long term care facilities first, followed by essential workers, and then high risk and elderly adults. The formal proposal made today is for Phase 1A only - healthcare personnel (including volunteers and essential non-medical staff) and residents of long term care facilities.
  • Regardless of the ACIP’s recommendation, the ultimate decision-making for vaccine distribution will be up to each individual state.
  • Pfizer’s vaccine was submitted for EU approval, which could reportedly come as early as December 29th
  • COVID was in the US weeks before previously thought, according to test results from donated blood from December and January.
  • AstraZeneca was the target of a phishing attack, likely from North Korea, in the form of fake job offers.
  • New CalOSHA requirements went into effect today for all California employers which, among other things, require employers to provide written notice of exposure within one day, and to offer no-cost COVID-19 testing during their working hours if they have had a potential exposure in the workplace. See the full text here.
  • In non-COVID related news, the FDA released a new table to track food-borne illness outbreaks (like E.coli, salmonella, etc.) here.

Best Questions:

We read the stories last week about reducing quarantine time to get exposed employees back to work sooner. When can we expect that?

We read (and were surprised by) those stories, too. Our contacts in infectious disease at the CDC and other agencies have let us know that they, too, were surprised. That leads us to think this may be an issue of politics and public health getting mixed up, though there’s also a potential argument for getting a better completion rate for quarantines if they’re shorter. Still, we’re not holding our breath waiting for this update and we definitely don’t recommend that you do anything differently until we get clear, data-informed guidelines from public health experts.

We are hearing that the first vaccines might be available soon. When is the earliest we can reasonably expect them for essential workers?

We’re hopeful that some of these vaccines will be approved by the FDA and are safe as early as mid- to late-December. But we know that healthcare workers will certainly be in the first wave, likely along with long-term care facility residents whose deaths make up a huge percentage of overall COVID-19 deaths. Essential workers are likely to be next, but we know that producing and administering vaccine will be an enormous challenge, particularly in rural areas across the US. We don’t expect the first non-healthcare-related essential workers to get vaccinated until 2021, and we don’t expect all essential workers to be vaccinated for quite some time as we grapple with the complexities of distributing finicky vaccine across the country and the world.

Some of our employees are being excluded for 10 days and others for just a day or 3 days for similar symptoms. What can I explain to managers about why they have different exclusions?

All things being equal, if 2 people have the exact same symptoms, they should have the same exclusion if your team is working off the same CDC guidelines and Exclusion Chart that we are. But each case is unique, and should be treated as such. For those using ZHH/Zedic wellness checks, our team is asking follow up questions and making a clinical determination based on the unique situation. So one person might have a sore throat related to allergies, which is alleviated by their prescribed allergy meds, and have no exclusion if the meds fully relieve their symptoms. Another person may have a new sore throat and get a 3 day exclusion since it’s their only symptom with instructions to report back if anything else develops. A third person may have a sore throat and loss of smell, and get a 10 day exclusion for possible COVID. We recommend being consistent across all situations, while still taking the time to get all the information in order to avoid on the one end, over-excluding, or on the other, letting someone come to work while sick!

Best Read:

We’ll talk more about mandatory vaccination in our webinar tomorrow with Michelle Harden from Messner Reeves, LLP, but in the meantime, we loved this NPR article about how employers are thinking about vaccination….

As COVID-19 Vaccine Nears, Employers Consider Making It Mandatory

Best Laugh:

Last but not least...

Join us tomorrow for our next webinar!

Our COO, Roslyn Stone, will join Michelle Harden, partner at Messner Reeves, LLP to answer your legal and clinical questions about vaccination, employee discipline, testing, and more.

Webinar: Looking Ahead to COVID in 2021 - Clinical and Legal Issues for Employers

TOMORROW Wednesday, December 2nd

3pm EST

Register here

As always, our webinars are recorded. Register to join us at 3pm EST (12pm PST) tomorrow or to receive the recording if you can't attend. Feel free to pass along to anyone at your organization!

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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.