July 15, 2021

The Delta Variant


Are Reopening Strategies At Risk?

All 50 U.S. states are now reporting an upward trend in new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, the latest sign that the highly contagious Delta variant has firmly taken root in the United States. In 19 states and Washington DC, daily case loads have more than doubled. The uptick in new infections is primarily driven by localized outbreaks in places with low vaccination rates. Today, more than half of all new infections in the U.S. are a result of Delta.

Meanwhile, daily vaccinations are off 84 percent since their peak in mid-April, a slowdown that’s even more dangerous against the backdrop of a surging, and more transmissible, virus variant. As public health experts issue new warnings about the “significant risk” of Delta to unvaccinated Americans, businesses should consider ways to strengthen their vaccine outreach and reexamine workplace safety protocols for workers and customers.

Below, we offer recommendations and resources to help you protect your business and your workers from Delta.

1. Support working parents who want to vaccinate eligible children against COVID-19.

Background: In May, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to roughly 23 million adolescents ages 12 and older; yet, as of today, only three in ten eligible adolescents are fully vaccinated. With a new school year just weeks away, the window of opportunity is quickly closing to get eligible children vaccinated for COVID-19 before they return to physical classrooms. Last week, CDC issued updated guidance for schools, noting vaccinations are “one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely resume full operations.”  

Why this Matters for Employers: For more than a year, working parents have been expected to help children manage a number of difficult challenges, including remote learning, while also balancing work and numerous other responsibilities. Those unable to do so lost their jobs or had to make the difficult decision to stop working in order to care for their family. This has been especially difficult for women in the workforce, particularly those in lower income families and from communities of color. 

Getting children reliably back into in-person school environments will strengthen learning and improve mental, social and physical well-being for millions of children. And, helping schools stay open safely will create opportunities for millions of parents to reliably return to the workplace and to the workforce, strengthening our economy at a critical moment in our recovery.

What You Can Do:  Research shows that employer encouragement and paid time off have significantly strengthened vaccine uptake among workers. Businesses should consider expanding these efforts to support working parents who are considering vaccines for their children ages 12 and older. From hosting family vaccine clinics to providing time off for working parents to attend vaccine appointments with their kids, employers can help remove barriers and make it easier for working parents to protect their children and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others. Together with our partners at the American Academy of Pediatrics, we've created an Employer Toolkit to help you share facts and support working parents who want to vaccinate their children. 


2. Align workplace health and safety protocols with the current risk environment. This may mean reinstating masking, distancing and other measures that are likely to be unpopular, but could serve to protect workers and customers.

Background: The Delta variant spreads 225% faster than the original version of the virus. Last week, researchers found that viral loads among those infected with the Delta variant were 1,000 times higher than those infected with the original strain. In addition, experts are raising concerns that people who are fully vaccinated may be able to spread the Delta variant, even as they’re protected from severe illness or even symptoms. 

What this Means for Employers: As employers expand operations or prepare to bring employees back into physical workplace settings, they face many important questions about how best to protect workers and customers against a surging Delta variant. This is especially complicated for businesses operating in areas with lower vaccination rates, or in higher risk sectors like retail, restaurant and manufacturing.

What You Can Do: Employers should take a risk-based approach that prioritizes the health and safety of employees and customers and consider local community vaccination rates and guidance from public health officials. The choices are complicated. While federal, state and local officials offer some guidance, much of it isn’t directive. Together with our partners at the National Safety Council, we've put together an interactive decision tool to help you navigate public health and legal considerations related to workplace safety and reopening questions.  


3. Keep employees and customers informed about Delta and the “significant risk” it poses for anyone who’s not fully vaccinated.  

Background: COVID-19 vaccines protect against the Delta variant. But in communities with low vaccination rates, the variant is spreading quickly among people who aren't fully vaccinated. New research indicates that completing the full course of vaccination is vital to fighting Delta. People who have received only one dose of a two-dose regimen are at much higher risk for infection and illness. According to CDC, nearly 15 million people — or more than 1 in 10 of those eligible in the U.S. — have missed their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

What this Means for Employers: Employers operating in communities with lower vaccination rates should anticipate spikes in new infections. These spikes may trigger new mask-wearing requirements. Vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your business against the spread of COVID-19.

What You Can Do:  Keep encouraging vaccination, and make sure to update your communications to share facts about the Delta variant. If your community is experiencing spikes in new infections, share that information with your employees. For many of the unvaccinated, concerns about vaccine safety are causing them to hold off getting vaccinated. Sharing information about COVID vaccine safety may help. 

Research shows that employer encouragement and paid time off drive vaccine uptake among workers. Not sure how to get started? We've developed resources that can help you build out your workplace approach to vaccines. Have questions? Contact us at hello@healthaction.org

Public health guidance on COVID-19 is constantly evolving. Health Action Alliance is committed to regularly updating our materials once we've engaged public health, business and communications experts about the implications of new guidance from the public health community and effective business strategies that align with public health goals. Together, we can turn the tide against COVID-19 and build a stronger, healthier future.