This question continues to come up a lot recently. Anyone with new COVID symptoms should be excluded, even if they are fully vaccinated. Even mild symptoms are important to monitor, since vaccinated people tend to have more mild symptoms if they do get a breakthrough infection.
Many of our clients are asking the same question and many are now mandating vaccination for return to the office or larger work settings. We strongly support that. There are employees who are not able to be vaccinated (for medical or religious reasons) and they will require reasonable accommodation. For those employees, weekly PCR testing seems to be the norm at the employee's expense (most testing is covered by insurance and free testing remains widely available). You will need a system for keeping track of test results which can be challenging. To date, none of our clients are allowing the testing option for employees who simply opt not to receive the vaccine. They are not being permitted to return to the office. While you should review whatever policy you settle on with your counsel, the EEOC has clearly supported vaccine mandates.
If you need help with on site testing (or self-collected PCR testing), email Julianne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve gone from employees being furious that they’re excluded from work while fully vaccinated with symptoms, to employees being bewildered and concerned that they’re NOT excluded from work after exposure. Certainly, there’s some whiplash here, and the anxiety isn’t entirely unfounded. There are breakthrough cases happening regularly, though the good news is that when they do happen, people aren’t getting very sick.
According to a recent study of the 25 states reporting on breakthrough cases, less than 1% of all fully vaccinated people have experienced a breakthrough case. About 98.4% of all COVID cases are in people who are unvaccinated. So, there is still some risk to letting fully vaccinated people work after exposure, but it’s a relatively low risk - made even lower if they wear a mask and monitor for symptoms for a full 14 days.
Sharing that data with your employees, and encouraging them to wear masks and monitor for symptoms, is one of the most effective ways to help combat that anxiety. You can also consider encouraging testing at day 3 or 5 after exposure, which is recommended by the CDC. We still don’t recommend allowing employees to remove their masks if they test negative since enforcing a strict 14 day mask requirement for those exposed seems like the best and most logistically realistic path. And realistically, as we learn more about the prevalence of breakthrough cases and the evolution of new variants, this might continue to change.
Unfortunately, a study published in Science magazine provided significant data demonstrating that someone who had COVID but is unvaccinated may be twice as likely to contract COVID again as someone who is vaccinated. So, it simply isn’t correct that someone who had COVID doesn’t need to wear a mask - to protect themselves or others (as they could be reinfected and asymptomatic spreading the virus). Mask mandates apply to everyone.
The latest CDC guidance states that unvaccinated people who are exposed must quarantine, while fully vaccinated people should get tested 3-5 days after exposure, and wear a mask for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result. Most of our client companies are having a difficult time managing this masking exemption through testing and are not including testing instructions in their employee communication after an exposure.
Those who are allowing employees to test out of the mask requirements are finding few employees availing themselves of the options (but many have employees testing on days 3-5 because they’ve developed symptoms). We do expect that there may be additional changes to the guidance as we learn more about the vaccines, variants, and breakthrough cases.
We were excited to be featured in this article from the Wall Street Journal about in-person meetings and office re-openings: