As 2022 kicks off, we have a number of updates regarding the Omicron variant, OSHA’s ETS, testing, and isolation guidelines, as well as a reminder for flu season.
Omicron, the COVID-19 variant first identified in November in South Africa, now accounts for over half of U.S. cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that this variant is the most transmissible yet. While we are still in “watch and wait” mode to learn how Omicron will play out in the U.S., we are currently seeing cases of COVID-19 infection levels equal to or higher than those seen during last winter’s surge. This is due to both Omicron and Delta. Delta has not been fully displaced and continues to cause a large number of infections alongside the very infectious Omicron variant.
While early indications are that Omicron produces less severe illness, it is clear that the unvaccinated are most likely to become severely ill if they are infected. It’s not uncommon for the vaccinated and previously infected to acquire Omicron, but these infections also seem to be mild among those who are in good health.
Based on data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, it seems that as fast as Omicron brings on a wave of infections, it also seems to subside quickly. However, the U.S. is a few weeks away from being able to prove that theory.
All of the measures that have gotten us through this pandemic to date still work to keep us healthy:
- Vaccinations and boosters
- Socializing outdoors if weather permits
- Handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds
- Masking when indoors or when you can not be socially distanced
- Using flexible work arrangements to keep your workplace safe
After a mild flu season in 2020, we are seeing much more flu this year and the type of flu virus circulating tends to cause the most severe disease. Flu activity is currently widespread in Washington, D.C., New Mexico, Kansas, Indiana, New Jersey, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Dakota. Flu generally circulates from October to March, so we still have several weeks to go. Flu vaccines help prevent serious disease, are widely available, and can be given alongside a COVID-19 vaccine or booster. Please encourage your employees to get their flu shots if they haven’t yet done so.
There has been a major demand for COVID-19 testing the past few weeks related to the fast spread of Omicron, coupled with the desire for people to safely travel and gather for the holidays with friends and family. Unfortunately, supply has not kept up with demand. Both federal and local governments are looking to increase supply as quickly as possible.
The White House is setting up a website and is preparing to ship 500 million kits to homes across the country in January and several states are following suit. Additionally, federal and state governments are setting up testing sites similar to those we saw ubiquitously in 2020. While it is coming later than we would have wanted, a renewed emphasis on and availability of testing will be helpful as we battle the next evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic.
CDC ISOLATION AND QUARANTINE UPDATES
On December 27, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance regarding the isolation period for asymptomatic individuals who test positive for COVID-19. The CDC is recommending that individuals should isolate for five days from the date of infection and then wear a high-quality, close-fitting double layered (non-cloth) mask for an additional five days while returning to regular activities such as work.
The CDC also updated its guidance regarding those who are in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. The CDC recommendations are as follows:
- Those who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot do not need to quarantine but should wear a face mask for at least ten days.
- Those who have not gotten a booster, or who are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated should quarantine for five days and then wear a mask in public for an additional five days.
Those who become symptomatic after having been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 should take a COVID-19 test and, ideally, isolate until 24 hours after symptoms resolve.
As a reminder, in December, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay on the OSHA ETS regarding workplace vaccines and testing mandates for employers with more than 100 employees. OSHA will not issue fines for non-compliance with any of the requirements until January 10, 2022, and it will not issue fines for the testing requirements until February 9, 2022.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments regarding the OSHA ETS on January 7, 2022.
ANTIVIRAL PILLS FOR COVID-19
Two antiviral pills, Paxlovid from Pfizer and Molnupiravir from Merck, were authorized by the FDA for emergency use in December. The pills can be taken at home for those with mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Both pills were approved for adults and Paxlovid is also authorized for children ages 12 and older. Both drugs need to be taken early in the onset of symptoms confirmed to be COVID-19 and are not without their risks. While the hope is that the pills will be readily available in local pharmacies soon, the supply chain is still ramping up. Given the small supply currently available, these medications are being rationed to those at the highest risk. If your employees have questions about these medications, they should contact their trusted Eden Health provider.
The new year is always a good time to remind employees to be proactive about their health by scheduling an annual physical and other routine screenings they may be due for.
Want to learn how Eden Health team helps to keep your workforce healthy? Contact a member of our team today to request a demo.
Disclaimer: This information is based on current resources available and is subject to change. This document and its contents are provided for informational purposes only, and not intended to be, and should not be understood or treated as, a substitute for professional medical advice around COVID-19, its risks or symptoms, or to take the place of any local, state and national laws and guidelines around COVID-19. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.