Following a hopeful reprieve early this summer from mask mandates, the aggressive spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 has renewed worldwide concern about COVID safety precautions. This concern is felt no greater than by employers as they prepare to or are in the throes of welcoming employees back to in-person work settings.
On July 27, 2021, the CDC announced that it now recommends that all individuals—including fully vaccinated individuals—wear masks in indoor spaces if they are in locations with high or substantial rates of COVID-19 transmission. This new guidance is a departure from earlier CDC guidance that fully vaccinated individuals need not wear a mask in any setting, unless required to do so by state or local authority.
Employers who wish to stay current with and/or uphold CDC guidelines related to masking in the workplace should first determine whether their workplace(s) are in an area of high or substantial COVID-19 transmission. Employers can view an up-to-date county-by-county map showing COVID-19 transmission rates here. And, because the number of COVID-19 cases is on an upward trend nationwide, employers should continuously monitor the transmission rates in their area.
The CDC Director Rochelle Walensky noted that, though the COVID-19 pandemic is currently “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” she advised that fully vaccinated individuals may experience breakthrough infections and could transmit the disease. That said, employers should be prepared to respond to increased requests to work remotely, especially from those employees who live with or care for immunocompromised individuals or small children who are not eligible to receive vaccines. Employers should also expect requests for reasonable accommodations from employees with disabilities or disability-related concerns.
As the Delta variant continues to spread, employers should also monitor changing mandates and orders from state and local governments and health authorities related to COVID safety precautions and vaccines.
And, as always, employers should continue to encourage employees who are sick to work remotely, if possible, or to stay home.