It’s been 22 months since my first post on the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking back on that first post way back on January 22, 2020, is more than a little strange. It was couched with a lot of “it’s still too early to know” language like this:
“While it seems too early to implement any measures in the United States at present, employers may want to at least start having conversations about the “what ifs” with the novel coronavirus.”
I was thinking about that as news over the last 48 hours broke of yet another new contagious variant now known as the Omicron variant. (Still disappointed we haven’t seen the Loki variant….)
And then the news of today where the World Health Organization officially designed it as “of concern” and the United States restricted travel (again) to and from parts of Africa.
I feel like we’ve seen this story before.
And yet, as former Biden White House Senior Advisor on COVID response Andy Slavitt noted early today, “In situations like this, it is useful to separate into what is known with good certainty, what is unknown, and what is being speculated.”
For employers, there is a lot of the last two categories: What is unknown and what is being speculated.
We simply don’t know how infectious this new variant is and we don’t know whether the vaccines we are currently using are effective against this variant.
And thus, we don’t know the impact yet on the workplace and how this will change employers’ plans to return to an office setting over the next few months.
Add to that a noted increase in cases in Connecticut and New England in general, and it can feel like we’re right back where we were in early 2020.
For employers that have had to manage through the last 2 years, we’ve learned a lot during that period of time. And there’s little reason to think that the tools we’ve learned, won’t continue to be effective. As Andy Slavitt noted, “Masks, portable air filters, staying outdoors, and other tools remain our friends should cases rise. We have the tools to minimize the effects of even a new problematic variant.”
So, for now, patience is a virtue. Continue to think about your contingency planning: What lessons have you learned from the last two years? What’s your strategy if you need to keep employees remote for a period of time? Is now the time to implement mandatory vaccinations, if only to keep the rate of absences down?
And most of all: Be level-headed. This Omicron variant is certainly “concerning” but we’ve learned a lot over the last two years. Employers are better prepared for what lies ahead — even if it doesn’t spread as quickly or as widely as some are worried about.