New COVID Guidelines Place Focus on Personal Responsibility

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance for COVID-related testing, distancing and quarantining in August. The guidance places a greater emphasis on personal responsibility for minimizing the risk of COVID to ourselves and others. The CDC urges that precautions remain in place for vulnerable populations and within community settings where these populations reside or work.

“This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives,” said Greta Massetti, a CDC epidemiologist, in a news release. “We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools – like vaccination, boosters, and treatments – to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19.”

Health experts are concerned businesses may scale back on preventive policies and use the latest guidance to stop routine COVID-19 testing, said David Aronoff, an infectious-disease expert and physician at Indiana University, in a recent Washington Post article. If severe illness and deaths spike in the fall, as some health officials are predicting, businesses and the CDC need to be willing to fast-track preventive strategies, if necessary, Aronoff said in the article.

Plumbing Manufacturers International member LIXIL shared its views on COVID-19 in a recent Work Design article. The company said it carefully follows current recommendations for vaccinations, social distancing and masking, as CDC guidelines evolve. LIXIL noted that the company goes above and beyond what is recommended – with a top priority focusing on the safety, health and wellbeing of one another.

The good news is milder cases of COVID-19 due to vaccination and previous exposure are keeping hospitalization rates manageable, according the Department of Health and Human Services. The Omicron BA.5 variant continues to make up most cases, the CDC said.

Despite the progress, the daily mortality average in the U.S. was 458 on Aug. 24. Spread of the BA.5 variant contributed to increased COVID-related worker absences at U.S. companies over the summer, reported the Wall Street Journal. Since late July, virus levels measured in wastewater have been dropping nationally, the article said.

CDC still recommends indoor mask wearing in high-risk communities

The CDC has withdrawn its recommendation that people be screened or tested for COVID-19 in most settings but still advises indoor mask wearing in communities with a high COVID-19 risk level. 

More than 41% of all U.S. counties in August qualified as high-risk zones. Anyone can check community risk levels on the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker website. 

Americans who say they have worn a face mask outside their home dipped to 47% in August, a new low from 50% in April and 68% in February, according to a recent Gallup study on COVID-19.

Some companies, such as Walmart, Amazon and Goldman Sachs, lifted mask requirements in February – before the CDC relaxed its guidance, reported an Insurance Business Canada article. Others remain cautious. Lockheed Martin in Troy, Alabama, has continued to require employees and visitors to wear masks indoors when COVID-19 transmission rates climb, reported a WSFA-12 News article.

In addition, the CDC recommends that instead of precautionary quarantining for people exposed to the virus, anyone with confirmed or suspected exposure should wear a mask for 10 days when around other people and be tested for the virus within five or more days after exposure. Individuals who have tested positive or have symptoms should isolate themselves for at least five days or 24 hours after symptoms end as well as wear a mask around other people for 10 days, the guidelines further stated.

The agency continues to promote the importance of vaccines and boosters to protect people against serious illness, hospitalization and death.

Protecting workers at-risk due to age or medical conditions

The CDC lists many medical conditions that will increase a person’s risk of contracting severe illness from COVID-19. These conditions include cancer, diabetes, chronic lung disease, heart conditions and autoimmune diseases. 

Older individuals may also be prone to severe COVID-related disease – with 75% of the 1 million Americans who died of COVID-19 being age 65 or older. The CDC reported that deaths increased dramatically during the pandemic for people ages 65 to 85 with influenza and pneumonia. People ages 65 to 74 with diabetes had the highest COVID-19 mortality rates of any demographic group.

For these reasons PMI CEO/Executive Director Kerry Stackpole encourages PMI members to make a special effort to make sure workers vulnerable due to age or medical history feel safe. “Having a conversation with these employees to show you’re looking out for them or asking team members in close proximity to take precautions will contribute to workplace safety and morale,” he stated.

New booster timed for fall

The Biden administration has contracted for new booster doses from Pfizer-BioNTech with possible distribution in the fall – pending regulatory approval. The new booster will protect specifically against the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which are the fastest spreading variants of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to a Forbes Innovation RX email article. Moderna also has begun testing for a similar booster. 

Because each workplace is different, businesses continue to grapple with mask-wearing and other restrictions to include in their COVID-19 policies. Businesses need to consider if they have adequate social distancing and workers with good vaccination coverage, according to an Insurance Business Magazine article. Legal experts have said it comes down to what it will take to reasonably protect your workforce, the article added.