The OSHA vaccine or test mandate will go into effect January 10th (unless the Supreme Court intervenes), at which point employers with over 100 workers will need to have a vaccination policy, know the vaccination status of every employee, and require masks for anyone who’s unvaccinated. Starting on February 9th, employers will need to be able to provide proof that all employees are either vaccinated or testing weekly. To prepare, you’ll need to determine your vaccination policy - you can either mandate vaccination for everyone, or prepare for weekly testing.
If you choose to go the testing route, you’ll need to decide if you’re offering the tests, which isn’t required by the law - but the fact that folks can’t do unsupervised tests at home makes it a real challenge unless offered by and/or proctored by the employer. The reality is that most employers only have two options: mandate vaccines for everyone, or offer free on-site rapid testing for unvaccinated people. Most other options are much more challenging, since off-site testing is either cost prohibitive for proctored at-home tests, or too difficult to manage. Many of our clients are planning on tests proctored on-site by a trained manager or testing coordinator (it doesn’t need to be a medical professional!). You can bulk purchase rapid tests, which can be found from medical supply companies like McKesson, Henry Schein, first aid supplies like Cintas, and major retailers like Amazon Business, Target, CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. It’s a good idea to document your attempts to buy rapid tests, since it shows a “good faith” effort required in the OSHA guidance.
If you don’t already have information on employee vaccination status, we suggest that should be your top priority right now, either way!
Clinically speaking, there’s some strong evidence that fully vaccinated people might be able to end isolation earlier than 10 days with testing, since their viral load is likely much lower and they’re much less likely to spread COVID after four or five days. Dr. Fauci mentioned on Tuesday that the CDC is considering the possibility of reducing the recommended exclusion for vaccinated people who are COVID positive. Our best guess is that it would allow vaccinated people to test out of isolation after Day 5, though we’ll have to wait and see what the CDC says. Ultimately, we expect that like most CDC recommendations, there will be variation across state and local health departments, with some still requiring 10 days and others following whatever new recommendation the CDC might share. We’re watching this closely, since we know it will help with staffing shortages.
Since the summer, we’ve seen videos on TikTok and Facebook that spread misinformation about a common sterilizer, claiming the gas used to sterilize nasal swabs causes altered DNA or cancer or other harmful effects. It’s not true at all. Ethylene oxide is commonly used in medical supplies of all kinds, every day. It’s also in many shampoos and laundry detergents. About half of all medical devices in the US are sterilized with it - so basically everyone has come into contact with other things sterilized this way that are completely safe. There is no ethylene oxide left on swabs after they’re sterilized - they’re exposed to the gas briefly, then removed from that gas, which dissipates, leaving no ethylene oxide on the item once it’s packaged. There’s no risk of anything harmful from ethylene oxide - cancer or otherwise - after swabbing with a nasal swab because there’s effectively no trace of ethylene oxide left on the swab after the sterilization process. WA State’s Dept. of Public Health has a great resource on this, available here.
Yes! Rapid and PCR tests can all detect Omicron, luckily. While there are a few mutations that make it different from the original virus that the tests were designed to catch, we know they work to detect Omicron because those mutations either don’t affect the part of the virus that the test “looks” for, or those same mutations were already present in the Delta variant and we know the test worked for that. We’ve had a huge spike in cases due to this new variant, and we’d certainly know by now if rapid tests didn’t work to catch those, and we’re very grateful that they do detect Omicron!