For employers, its difficult to know exactly what to expect particularly over the next few weeks; there is no statewide mask mandate, for example, and no closures anticipated from state or local governments. Yet, this strain appears to be incredibly contagious and the precautions we have been taking may not be good enough anymore.
If you watched Saturday Night Live which had many cast members infected almost overnight, it seems clear that this variant can sweep through even fully vaccinated workforces with alarming speed.
This has significant ramifications for the workforce because one case can multiply very quickly. This can result in mass absences in clusters of people; no doubt hospitals are making contingency plans for this as well.
But other employers still have tools to use to help minimize the disruption. Here are three to consider immediately:
- The obvious tool is to return to either a hybrid or work-from-home model. This will obviously only work in some workplaces; retail stores and manufacturers can’t do the work remotely. But minimizing the contacts that workers have in the office will reduce the risk of a widespread infection.
- Particularly if in-person work remains important to you for whatever reason, then employers should mandate high-quality masks. Masks appear to remain very useful in minimizing the spread of the aerosols that the Omicron variant thrives on. That means encouraging or even paying for employees to use N95-quality masks at all times. Better still, even consider testing protocols for key personnel or challenging workplace situations. It won’t be perfect but it may help prevent spread in some instances.
- Another strategy for employers to use who have to be in-person is to try to have two “teams” of people who will alternate the use of the facility and won’t overlap. This was a strategy employed early in the pandemic and it seems wise to try to find a short-term use for it again. With this team approach, an “A” team might work M-W-F, while the “B” team would work T-TH and then reverse; or the “A” team might work week 1 but the “B” team might work week 2. In this way, if there is an infection in the “A” team, those in the “B” team could continue to operate. This may be important for stores or other places deemed “essential” where keeping operations ongoing is vital.
This next wave — at least in terms of overall cases — may be the worst yet, although scientists are hoping the vaccines continue to prevent severe illness. Still, having to deal with a massive outbreak at your workplace is something that is still preventable.
Consider taking these steps immediately until we are able to see how quickly this wave may crest and how contagious and impactful this Omicron variant will be. Employers still have an obligation to provide a safe workplace, so ignoring this wave isn’t a viable solution.