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The Executive Briefing - Tuesday, March 1

Unmasking mayhem, plus unofficial national vaccination pass emerging

COVID Recap:

  • A new California bill places proof of vaccination requirements on employers. (SHRM)
  • While NYC is relaxing mask mandates for guests, employee vaccination mandates remain firmly in place. (NYC.gov)
  • CA, OR, and WA will drop school mask mandates, while IL and Honolulu are also ending most indoor mask mandates. (AP)
  • A national vaccine card has quietly been rolling out and new states keep signing on. (Forbes)
  • More than half of COVID patients in a CDC study tested positive on a rapid test between days 5 and 9 after symptom onset or their initial diagnosis, something our own clinical team is seeing every day. (MMWR)
  • Companies are relaxing mask mandates, but primarily for vaccinated employees. (Reuters)
  • Most Americans believe that COVID isn’t ‘under control and support restrictions to try to manage it, a new Post-ABC poll says. (Washington Post)
  • Poison centers around the country continue to report incidents and illness related to children ingesting the liquid found in at home COVID testing kits.  Those cute little vials…(USA Today)
  • The first possible case of deer-to-human transmission of COVID is being investigated in Canada. (The Guardian)
  • A new study found that Pfizer’s COVID vaccine is much less effective in kids aged 5-11, raising questions about the proper dosing for kids. (STAT)
  • The CDC estimates that nearly twice as many people had COVID than official case counts reflect, including that the majority of kids have been infected. (Washington Post)

Today’s Health News:

  • Long awaited revisions to DOT drug screen guidelines have finally been published in the Federal Register.  Proposed changes include allowing saliva testing, observed collection by anyone authorized to conduct a DOT medical exam and letting MROs call pharmacies directly to verify prescriptions.  (Federal Register)
  • Moet Champagne magnums in Europe laced with Ecstasy (MDMA) have caused multiple serious overdoses and one reported death.  (London Times)
  • The health impacts of severe weather caused by climate change will affect half the world’s population, according to the latest UN report. (Washington Post)
  • Telehealth visits are now available through a partnership with Teladoc and Amazon’s Alexa. (AP)

Best Questions:

What do we do about masks?

This is undoubtedly the question of the week, one which many of you have been asking since the CDC’s updated masking guidance. And there is no easy answer. Some employees will be more comfortable remaining masked, while others can’t wait to rip them off. Some guests will be more comfortable when employees who are preparing their food or taking care of them are masked, and others are annoyed by anyone around them wearing a mask.  Who would ever have guessed two years ago that this would be such a loaded and long term issue?  While many companies are relaxing mask mandates, most are only doing so for guests and vaccinated employees.

Determining who needs to be masked based on fluctuating county-specific measures is challenging. Having employees in one county masked but others in a neighboring county not masked is challenging - especially when employees travel to multiple locations. One CPO said, ”I anticipate that we’ll remain masked until we see what others are doing and if this guidance holds.”  Generally, if in doubt, our best recommendation is to keep your mask mandates in place until we see how this plays out. For more on this, Fisher Phillips has released their legal interpretation here, and we liked this NPR story addressing this question:  Businesses Bet on Their Own Mask Policies.

It seems that each of our locations continue to have 4 or 5 people daily with COVID symptoms or a positive test.  Is that what others are seeing?

Yes. While overall COVID numbers are down, they still remain above 60,000 per day among those who are getting tested, not including all the at-home positives that aren’t being counted in those numbers. On a daily basis, we are seeing many employees reporting COVID symptoms (and similarly seeing many employees reporting symptoms that are consistent with Norovirus). It’s important to remember that while we’re way below the Omicron peak, actual case numbers are still high and sick employees should still stay home!

Is the Norovirus we’re now seeing a direct result of decreased COVID precautions?

Almost certainly. We’ve seen an incredibly low amount of Noro over the past two years because the strict precautions used to limit the spread of COVID prevent the spread of Noro, too.  Keeping sick employees at home, and washing hands thoroughly are two of the best defenses against both viruses. Much like COVID, Noro can spread through the air when someone vomits - but unlike COVID, it also spreads easily on surfaces. Noro can easily be transmitted after someone touches a contaminated surface and then touches their face. This uptick we’re seeing in Noro cases is definitely related to the easing of restrictions. To help prevent the spread, remind your employees to spot the signs of Noro (diarrhea and vomiting!), stay home when sick, and wash their hands as much as they did back in March 2020! If someone gets sick on-site, be sure to do a thorough cleaning and sanitizing, since those virus particles can spread like crazy.

Fewer employees with COVID symptoms are taking COVID tests. Should we ask them to test?

As long as sick employees are staying at home when they have symptoms, whether to test or not is generally up to them. The primary benefit of a confirmed COVID positive test is for unvaccinated employees, who won’t need to be excluded from work if they have a close-contact exposure for the next 90 days after their COVID diagnosis. For others, it’s generally up to the employee and to your company policy, but we recommend checking with your legal team before asking sick employees to go get a test. You may be on the hook for the time they spend testing, the cost of the test, or other legal implications, so it’s a good idea to run it by your legal team before adopting any policy around testing for symptomatic employees.

Best Read:

NY Times Interactive:  Who is requiring employee vaccination

Best Laugh:

If you didn’t see Saturday Night Live this weekend, take five minutes to watch this. This dinner table convo will look familiar to one you’ve likely had recently - just a lot more fun.

You Tube:  SNL Dinner Conversation

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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.