Making safe business decisions this fall
How to navigate decision-making around COVID-19 as we proceed with work gatherings, events, and travel.Sep 28, 2021
This fall may look a little different, or a lot the same, compared to what we expected six months ago.
In June, it seemed that we were emerging into “normal” life from the pandemic. For many businesses, it was the first time they were able to welcome employees back to the office and gather with team members whom they may not have seen for months. Organizations were starting to plan and announce the rebirth of in-person conferences and travel.
News broke that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave the okay for vaccinated people to no longer wear masks indoors, even as COVID-19 vaccination rates grew across the country.
Then it seemed like overnight, it all shifted. The Delta variant gave rise to the fourth wave of COVID-19. As of September 2, all 50 states are maintaining high community transmission rates. Just like that, it feels like we are right back to asking ourselves the same questions we were last fall about what to do, whom to see, and how to work.
We face ongoing uncertainty as public health professionals work on the latest guidance. Schools are back in session and kids under the age of 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, return to big classrooms. Some businesses are requiring vaccination for workers and mask wear and others are not.
What questions are businesses and management teams asking TODAY that need answers?
Should we require teams to be fully vaccinated to come to work?
The short answer is yes. Workplaces that provide access and mandates to vaccination provide the safest environments for workers. This is consistent with CDC guidance.
What are other workplace prevention strategies?
Organizations should continue monitoring operations to address safety protocols, ventilation, cleaning and disinfecting, and contact tracing. CDC provides workplace-specific guidance on COVID-19 safety measures.
Should we require teams to mask up?
Yes. To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possible transmission, workplaces should encourage or require vaccination and fully require all workers to wear a mask indoors.
Is business travel still ok?
Bill Gates predicted that more than 50% of business travel and more than 30% of days in the office will end permanently due to COVID-19. Employers and managers should consider travel based on vaccination status. CDC recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated. If you are not fully vaccinated and must travel, follow CDC’s recommendations for people who are not fully vaccinated.
Businesses should consider whether travel is essential to company operations. Worker safety must remain the number one priority and employers should have a plan for business travel that includes company-paid COVID-19 testing before and after travel. Employers should also supply personal protective equipment kits (masks, hand sanitizer gloves, sanitizing wipes). Consider a post-travel debrief to address any possible exposure and implications for work from home options or self-quarantine post-travel, if necessary.
State, local, and territorial governments may have travel restrictions in place, including testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine requirements upon arrival. For up-to-date information and travel guidance, check the state or territorial and local health department for where you live, along your route, and where you are traveling to.
Employers may also inquire about personal travel plans, in a fair and equitable way, to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Should we reconsider hosting in-person events?
The CDC announced in July that event planners may choose to verify COVID-19 vaccination status at the time of registration or entry to an event. It’s important that organizers follow all local, state, and federal regulations. Prevention strategies for in-person gatherings include promoting or requiring vaccination among attendees; preventing crowding by modifying layouts and attendance numbers, holding events outdoors; improving ventilation for indoor events; encouraging distancing; requiring attendees and event staff to wear masks correctly and consistently; and encouraging attendees and staff to stay home if they are sick or experience symptoms of COVID-19. More from the CDC here.
All our employees are vaccinated. Should we still be concerned?
The safest workplaces are those where everyone is vaccinated. People should still monitor for symptoms—vaccinated people can still get infected (breakthrough infections) spread COVID-19. Masking is recommended for all individuals while indoors in areas of high or substantial transmission—which is essentially every jurisdiction at the moment.
It is certain that uncertainty will continue as the Delta variant case numbers rise. Personal considerations and flexibility remain key for all employers as we continue business this fall. Depending on individual circumstances, people may or may not feel comfortable with coming to the office or traveling due to underlying health conditions of their own or of someone they live with.
- COVID-19 Employer Policies: A Decision Tool for Business Leaders | Health Action Alliance
- Guidance for Implementing COVID-19 Prevention Strategies in the Context of Varying Community Transmission Levels and Vaccination Coverage | MMWR (cdc.gov)
Written by Liliana Tenney, DrPH, MPH, Assistant Professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, Associate Director for Outreach at the Center for Health, Work & Environment.