You remember the first “real” week of the pandemic, right? The NBA shut down. Then the schools. And then we were all shopping for toilet paper. Things were moving at light speed.
Yesterday brought back a lot of those memories and stress.
First, the CDC said that fully vaccinated individuals could drop their masks.
The agency said that masks should still be worn while flying or taking public transit and when visiting health care facilities. Schools? Workplaces? The guidance was not quite specific.
Here’s some of the language:
Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
In other words, if state or local jurisdictions require mask wearing, those rules still trump their recommendations.
Then Governor Lamont announced that the indoor mask requirement for public settings would be dropped by May 19th. Except that the Executive Orders still needed to be modified and there will be some places were masks will be required, according to comments by the state’s chief operating officer. As the Hartford Courant noted,
“[T]here will be some exceptions to that rule — even vaccinated people will still be required to wear masks in high-risk spaces such as nursing homes and schools, according to the state’s chief operating officer Josh Geballe. Those rules will be finalized by the state in the coming days, he said.”
Will workplaces be one of those places? That’s still to be determined though Lamont has indicated that all “remaining” business restrictions will be dropped on May 19th.
Here’s the confusing part: Under both the CDC recommendations and the state’s expected rules, unvaccinated people will still be required to wear masks, though there will be no way to enforce this.
For employers, this is a mess. Do you survey employees to determine who is and who isn’t vaccinated?
But wait, it gets worse. The government’s guidance is far from consistent. Right now, OSHA still has guidance on its website that says that employers should not make distinctions between fully vaccinated employees and those who are not.
Not distinguishing between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not: Workers who are vaccinated must continue to follow protective measures, such as wearing a face covering and remaining physically distant, because at this time, there is not evidence that COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus from person-to-person. The CDC explains that experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Now obviously, this is a bit outdated since the CDC’s new recommendations say there IS evidence that COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission. But still.
For employers, this is a moment to take a deep breath — and pause. The guidance here is shifting pretty significantly as we speak. There’s no need to rush into things. I anticipate that over the next week or two, new guidance from state and federal officials will continue to develop and be released. That should provide some needed clarity.
The CDC’s announcement yesterday is a good sign that we’re doing well in our efforts to end this pandemic. But it’s not quite over yet. Stay the course, keep your employees safe, and be mindful that the rules going forward are likely to look very different than the rules we’ve all been operating under for the last 15 months.