What Your CEO is Reading: The CDC Revises Masking Guidelines and Some Large Employers Move to Implement Vaccine Mandates

The higher transmissibility of the Delta variant causes the CDC to recommend indoor mask wearing in some areas, prompting employers to revisit their workplace safety protocols and return to office plans. The list of employers mandating vaccination to further bolster workforce safety and return to office efforts is growing.

July 29, 2021

With the abundance of data demonstrating the effectiveness and safety of vaccines in protecting individuals against COVID-19 related hospitalization and death, and with the risk the highly transmissible Delta variant presents for the unvaccinated, large employers are taking another look at their vaccination protocols.

One after another, the major news outlets are reporting about increasing number of companies across a variety of sectors implementing vaccination mandates. Such trends were reported by CNN, The Washington Post, among others.

First, some notable public sector employers (City of New York, State of California and the federal government itself) have announced a requirement that all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be required to submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements. Big Tech has followed with Google and Facebook announcing they will require vaccinations for employees returning to the office. This follows similar announcements made earlier by the major banks headquartered in New York, including Morgan Stanley.1

The higher transmissibility of the Delta variant also caused the CDC to recommend indoor mask wearing in high-risk areas for all, regardless of vaccination status, requiring employers to potentially revise their workplace safety protocols, amid many finalizing the plans to return to the office in the fall. On Tuesday, July 27 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a new set of recommendations for indoor mask use by everyone, in the counties with high or substantial levels of community transmission. The CDC COVID Data Tracker indicates that currently over 63% of the counties meet these criteria, a 17% increase over the prior week.2

All major news outlets have reported on the impact of those guidelines, including The New York Times, CBS News and Business Insider.

Why the change? The CDC and national pandemic experts commenting on these guidelines have emphasized that the change is driven by new data that have emerged on the transmissibility of the Delta variant. The number of unvaccinated Americans, which remain high despite vaccine access barriers removed, contributed to this variant taking hold in the U.S. so quickly and fueling a rapid increase in cases.

In recent days I have seen new scientific data from recent outbreak investigations showing that the Delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that cause COVID-19.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a media briefing3

The new data indicate that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can contract and transmit the virus more easily. Scientists are finding that Delta grows more rapidly inside the body and that the viral load of an infected person with Delta tends to be about 1,000 times the viral load of the other strains of the virus.4, 5

Why Your CEO May Care

Since the beginning of the pandemic employers have made the safety and well-being of their employees their top priority. This has required education, investment, and awareness of the ever-changing pandemic related risks. As vaccines were developed and approved for emergency use, employers became unequivocal advocates for vaccination, deploying their know-how, physical assets, and communication resources in removing barriers to vaccine access. With the Delta variant spreading, the importance of stepping up these already considerable efforts to promote or require vaccination has been highlighted.

With many essential employees already reporting to work daily, and employers planning to return non-essential workers to the worksite this fall, the revised mask guidelines, the lagging vaccination rates, and the spread of the virus linked mostly to the unvaccinated require changes in on-site safety protocols and return to office plans.

What Employers Can Do

With vaccines being the best tool we have to fight the pandemic, employers may consider ramping up efforts to improve vaccination rates of their employees and their dependents. Such efforts may include:

  • 1 | Stepping up communication efforts, including sharing the latest data about vaccine effectiveness to address common concerns and misinformation, with reliance on scientific sources, culturally conscious messages, and trusted messengers.
  • 2 | Allowing time and providing scheduling flexibility for employees to be vaccinated and to manage any vaccine side effects. Extending those benefits to help caregivers with vaccination of their children.
  • 3 | Concentrating the vaccination efforts in the areas with lowest vaccination rates, including offering on site vaccinations for employees and their dependents in areas with greatest need.
  • 4 | Evaluating or implementing a vaccine incentive strategy in ways that align with company culture and needs.
  • 5 | Depending on the industry and the needs of customers, considering requiring employees to disclose vaccination status and implementing stricter vaccine protocols (up to and including mandates) coupled with testing mandates for unvaccinated individuals.
  • 6 | Follow the emerging industry-specific recommendations as published by the relevant professional associations.

In order to incorporate the latest CDC mask guidance in their protocols and respond to the increased COVID-19 infection rates, employers should:

  • 1 | Regroup with all internal experts, including task force teams working on COVID-19 workplace safety and return to worksite plans, to assess how the mask recommendations may impact the existing plans and protocols.
  • 2 | Analyze the impact of the CDC guidelines based on the geographic footprint of your organization, with an understanding that levels of community transmission change constantly. Continue to monitor the local guidelines and mandates related to pandemic safety.
  • 3 | Communicate the new mask guidelines to all employees and post appropriate information on site. Set up hotlines and prepare talking points for the HR team to consistently address any questions that may emerge.
  • 4 | Evaluate if company policies will differ by location based on community transmission levels or if all employees should be subject to the same masking requirements, regardless of location.

For a full breakdown of the CDC Guidelines please click here and for additional information and/or questions about this WYCIR, please reach out to us.

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  1. Why Your CEO May Care
  2. What Employers Can Do
  3. Additional Business Group Resources