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UPDATED: COVID-19 Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines Approved as Cases Rise

UPDATED: COVID-19 Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines Approved as Cases Rise

In mid-December, the FDA approved emergency use for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine and the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. Cases continue to rise, but some American businesses have already returned to the office while others still rely on remote work operations. As the vaccine rolls out across the country, how should employers plan for the next several months?

 

Updated: Pfizer, Moderna Vaccines Approved for Use

On Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. According to reporting by The New York TimesPfizer expects to ship approximately 2.9 million doses the week of Dec. 14, 2020, with up to 25 million available by the end of the year and 100 million total by March 2021. Likewise, on Dec. 18, 2020, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. 

For the most part, the vaccine will be initially available to hospitals in every state and several major cities. What this means is that for most American employers outside the healthcare and home care industries, a majority of employees likely won’t have access to the vaccine until sometime in early 2021.

While there are exceptions, employers will probably be able to require workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks and months. For more on this topic, watch episode #39 of HR Party of One

 

Remote Work vs. Office Return: What Should Employers Do?

NPR reports that the U.S. continues to break records for daily infections—and that until vaccines are widely available, there’s no end in sight for this worrying trend. More states may reissue lockdowns to limit the size of social gatherings, which could possibly include workplaces, depending on the industry. 

What can employers do? 

  1. Follow State Guidelines: If a state implements restrictions, employers should comply with these regulations. Failing to comply could result in harmful lawsuits
  2. Stick with Remote Work (if Possible): The best way to keep employees safe—and limit legal risk—during the pandemic is to implement a work-from-home policy. In some cases, you may have to close down the office after reopening, which presents a prime opportunity to revisit and update your remote work policy. However, this isn't possible for every company. Depending on the industry, many organizations are unable to work remotely during this time of the year. 
  3. Adhere to CDC Guidance: As mentioned above, not every employer can operate with an entirely remote workforce. Companies that require in-person workers must follow CDC guidelines to prevent outbreaks, loss of productivity, and serious illness.
  4. Issue a Return-to-Work Communication When Ready: Use the following template to communicate your return-to-work process and procedures. 

 

What Else Can Employers Do to Keep Teams Safe?

The CDC continues to update best practices to mitigate and monitor the virus’s spread—and, importantly, how to keep employees safe in the workplace. These can include: 

  1. Promote Health Hygiene Practices: Handwashing remains an important part of preventing, particularly after being in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. 
  2. Cover Mouth and Nose With a Mask When Near Others: The CDC encourages everyone to wear a mask when around others. 
  3. Intensify Cleaning, Disinfection, and Ventilation: Frequently touched surfaces need to be cleaned at least daily, as well as shared objects between each use. Ventilation should be working and airflow is encouraged. 
  4. Avoid Close Contact (Social Distancing): Can include physical barrier installation (e.g. partitions) and changing workspace configurations so that everyone can stay at least six feet apart. Communal spaces should also remain closed if possible, or at least cleaned and disinfected between uses. Additionally, remote work should be encouraged for as many employees as possible.
  5. Limit Travel: Cancel or reschedule all non-essential travel and resume only in accordance with regulations and guidelines provided by State and local authorities. If employees use public transit to reach the office, encourage them to continue teleworking to prevent community contact and spread.

For a full list of best practices, go to CDC.gov.

COVID-19 Return to Work Readiness Checklist

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