Back in January 2020, I was one of the first legal bloggers to highlight the risks of a new coronavirus and asking the question: What if it spreads. Over the next several weeks, I started to raise the alarm — so much so that my friend Kate called me out for being a “doomsday lawyer”. She quickly retreated, but the label stuck among friends — “Doomsday Lawyer” it is.
Oh, if we only knew.
Over much of 2020, my family and I took some pretty significant precautions to avoid the virus.
And when the vaccines were first available, we searched for the places we could get it — ultimately getting lucky with a CVS that a few extra doses at the end of the day in February 2021.
Flash forward to summer of 2022. Over the last two years, I’ve been fully vaccinated and double boosted. So when the opportunity came to travel to Chicago for the American Bar Association Annual Meeting — where I would take my seat on the ABA Board of Governors, a tremendous professional honor — I said, “it’s time”.
Still, I took some precautions, wearing a mask for most meetings and on the planes. In part, this was due to a vacation that I was scheduled to take shortly after the conference. And when I came home, I isolated from my family until I could test — just in case.
Then a day after I arrived home, I started to have some allergies. Or at least I would’ve thought they were allergies. A little itchy throat. A little nasal drip. No big deal. But after I got dressed to go into the office, I used one of the at-home tests we had stockpiled (thanks Biden administration for the free tests!).
Bingo. Positive. Doomsday was here.
Over the course of the next week or so, I had very mild symptoms — the type that those of us who are vaccinated and boosted experience. Sinus congestion and some coughs. Vacation was out of the picture for me (the rest of the family, virus-free, got to enjoy the beach) but I binge-watched Ozark and yes, had chicken noodle soup (though I couldn’t taste it for a few days!).
Overall, it’s pretty remarkable when you see how far we’ve come. An illness that we were predicting as “doomsday” (and, to be fair, was for millions of people and their families), turned out to be very much like a common cold for me, thanks to remarkable vaccines and booster shots. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to the scientists who developed these remarkable vaccines, some of whom reside here in Connecticut and work for Pfizer.
So where does that leave employers now? Well, a few interesting points emerge since my last update:
- Some continue to have mandatory vaccination policies. But with the introduction of Novavax, a 4th vaccine option, employers can push back against some of the religious accommodation requests that were made on the grounds of fetal stem cells. As another firm noted, “The Novavax vaccine differs from the other COVID-19 vaccines in that HEK293 and PER.C6 cell lines were not used in any stage of its development, manufacturing, production, or testing. These differences should ameliorate the concerns around vaccination against COVID-19 commonly expressed by individuals seeking religious exemptions.”
- The State has softened the guidance for schools that are starting up this fall.
- As a reminder, last month the EEOC modified its guidance on the pandemic. The new guidance makes clear that “going forward employers will need to assess whether current pandemic circumstances and individual workplace circumstances justify viral screening testing of employees to prevent workplace transmission of COVID-19.”
And then there’s the practical side of things. Many vaccinated adults (and unvaccinated) continue to get sick from COVID each week. But I’m hearing from employers that it’s been easier to manage than in the past and that they are treating such illnesses by use of the existing PTO policies. With the exception of some healthcare institutions and some other specific situations, mandatory mask wearing has dropped out of the picture for most.
The pandemic isn’t over but my recent bout with COVID reminded me that we’re not at the same place we were in January 2020 either. Employers should continue to revisit your policies and practices here to make sure that the approach you are using is consistent with the state of the pandemic today.