COVID-19: Responding to the New Rise in Cases
Right now, more than 1 in 3 U.S. counties has a “high” COVID-19 Community Level.
- That means local hospital systems are under potential strain—and employers are recommended to require masks indoors and test all employees weekly to contain the further spread of the virus.
Workplace outbreaks are contributing to a rise in cases.
- In Los Angeles alone, outbreaks of 20 to 137 people have been identified among workers at the airport, grocery, retail and warehouse stores, manufacturing facilities, food processors, film studios and more.
What You Need to Know
Nationwide, COVID-19 cases are trending up.
Reported cases are about three times higher than they were last summer, before the Delta surge—and likely much higher than that, due to people not reporting positive results on home tests as recommended.
- The latest dominant subvariant, Omicron BA.5, is highly transmissible and better able to evade immunity than its predecessors. People are getting reinfected after a few months.
- That makes keeping up to date on booster shots especially important.
- So far, it’s unclear whether BA.5 causes more severe illness. But hospitalization and death aren’t the only reasons to take action to protect your workforce.
Why Employers Should Act
Employers have a responsibility to protect vulnerable workers, including workers who are immunocompromised. There is also the risk of long COVID.
- One in 13 U.S. adults is currently experiencing long COVID, meaning they have symptoms three or more months after contracting the virus. Long COVID can qualify as a disability, and some of its effects, including fatigue and brain fog, could have significant impacts on job performance.
- The bottom line: Employers should not accept that the current version of the virus “is not a big deal.”
What You Can Do
This is the moment to revisit your Readiness Assessment, build surge capacity, maintain flexibility and protect the health of your employee and communities.
- Companies should consider requiring masks in common spaces like lobbies, meeting rooms, hallways and elevators—for all workers where the COVID-19 Community Level is “high,” and at least for unvaccinated workers where levels are “moderate.”
- Test workers at least weekly.
- Make sure employees know how to respond if they were exposed to the virus. Even employees who are up to date on their vaccinations and showing no symptoms should test after 5 days and monitor symptoms for 10 days.
- Consider requiring a negative test from employees one to two days before any business travel.
- Connect workers who test positive to treatment. Paxlovid is a pill that reduces the risk of hospitalization and death by 90%. It’s available—for free—in 41,000 locations, including one-stop “test to treat” sites. All these locations can be found through COVID.gov.
- Take steps to improve indoor air quality.
- Remind workers not to come to work if they have symptoms—and provide them the paid time off to stay away from the workplace.
- Emphasize the importance of staying up to date with your vaccinations. Vaccines and boosters are still effective at preventing severe illness.
Will there be new boosters?
Medical experts are working on new Omicron-specific boosters, which could be available as soon as October.
In the meantime, employees should not wait to get boosted.
Anyone who is eligible for a booster now should take advantage of that protection. Getting boosted now will not prevent you from getting boosted again in the fall.
What’s coming next?
- As summer turns to fall and people return indoors, the potential for spreading the virus increases. With COVID-19 cases already on the rise, that should be a note of caution for employers to build their surge capacity. Our Readiness Assessment has additional guidance.
- Now that children as young as 6 months old are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, employers have a new opportunity to support working parents to get their children vaccinated. Doing so will help prevent outbreaks that close schools and daycares, endanger community health and cause parents to miss work. It could help defend against a fall surge. It’s also a health equity priority.