Earlier this month, I talked about how the Delta variant could start making more of an impact in this area as it had “already shown itself to be far more contagious than prior strains”.  Optimistically, I said that employers probably had some time (maybe two months) to figure out their next steps.

That window of opportunity seems to be closing. Fast.

Reports from both The Washington Post and The New York Times from this evening of a CDC slidedeck (findings that will be discussed by the CDC in the next day or so) suggest several conclusions about the newer Delta variant of COVID-19 that should have employers rethinking office reopening plans. Among the findings:

  • Vaccinated individuals infected with Delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated. This does NOT mean that they will get as sick, but rather suggests some transmissibility — even if they have no symptoms.
  • The Delta variant is far more contagious than the prior strains — on par with the Chicken Pox — and far more contagious than the flu or even a common cold.
  • Yet vaccinated persons have a far lower rate of hospitalizations and deaths than unvaccinated persons.
  • Still for unvaccinated people, the Delta variant may cause more severe disease than prior strains.

In short, the Delta variant is different from previous strains. It is highly contagious and maybe more severe.  However, existing vaccines are still highly effective against it, particularly in preventing serious illness.

While we will still need more information from the CDC, OSHA, and other medical professionals, in my view, this means that employers have far more on their plate than just a few weeks ago.

Here are the issues now on the table:

  1. Should you now strongly consider mandating the vaccine (subject to legal exceptions)?
  2. Should you reimpose new mask requirements in the workplace including for vaccinated workers?
  3. Should you postpone any “return to office” requirements until the newer wave of Delta variant plays itself out?
  4. Should you impose other restrictions on your workforce including strict travel requirements? Limits on in-person business meetings?
  5. Is it time to “get the band back together” and consider what steps should be taken for your workforce assuming this next wave continues to increase for a while?
  6. If you decide not to impose a mandate, should you consider testing regularly (even if that may only provide a false sense of security)?
  7. Are additional screening methods needed given that a few vaccinated workers may become infected and might be able to transmit the disease without even symptoms?

The modest “good” news is that the Delta variant wave in the U.K. appears to have crested and at least for Connecticut, their vaccination rates are on par with a good portion of the state. The bad news? The rest of our country’s vaccination rates are not and the rate of illness is rapidly increasing.

This week has brought a LOT of new developments: New incentives from the federal government and new mandates from many companies.

And there are still many unknowns. Will this Delta variant burn out quickly? How much worse will this wave get? What other things don’t we know?

For employers — particularly those who have unvaccinated populations like independent schools — summer vacation is over. Time to get back to work keeping your workplaces safe.