As vaccines for the coronavirus go before the Food and Drug Administration for approval, the logistics of getting them to the general public are still a work in progress.
For example, some of the vaccines have to be stored at extremely cold temperatures and must be administered within a certain time after defrosting.
In addition, it’s uncertain how long the immunity provided by the vaccine lasts and a follow-up shot is likely to be needed a few weeks after receiving the initial dose.
In a recent “State of COVID-19 Response” online panel discussion hosted by the National Safety Council (NSC), Arizona State University biomedical diagnostics professor Mara Aspinall predicted that state governments will tap workplaces to be “central logistical hubs” for coronavirus vaccination because “CVS and Walgreens don’t have parking lots big enough” to accommodate the anticipated demand.
“It’s absolutely critical that we do this together,” she said.
This might be a good time to check with your state’s public health department about their coronavirus vaccine distribution plan, if it could involve your company and what safety measures would have to be taken if called on to administer vaccinations to employees.
Another member of the NSC panel, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry President and CEO Gene Barr, commented that employers will have a crucial role to play by sharing the facts about the vaccine with their workers and encouraging them to get vaccinated.
When asked if states could potentially mandate 100% workforce vaccination for some industries, Barr said no because of federal laws that are in place. For example, employees have the right to refuse vaccination if it’s against their sincerely held religious beliefs.
If your company doesn’t already address the vaccine in its COVID-19 policies, now’s the time to start a discussion with leadership to get a sense of how your organization will approach the next phase of pandemic employee safety issues.
State of mask enforcement
“The easiest thing to do — wearing a mask — has been one of the hardest things to implement here in our state,” said Illinois Department of Health Chief of Staff Justin DeWitt, another member of the NSC panel.
Fortunately, DeWitt said, masking skeptics seem to be changing their minds, thanks to tailoring the language of masking guidelines according to community profile (e.g., urban areas vs. rural areas).
Barr shared that one member of his chamber organization, the CEO of a “large retailer,” reported it was experiencing one to two assaults daily on associates that engaged customers for not wearing masks in stores despite signage that masks were required to enter. Some resources from NIOSH for de-escalating workplace violence situations can be found here.
Barr believes that masking is key to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and said he’d like to see states amp up enforcement of mask mandates and make it clear what the penalties are for noncompliance.
At the same time, he said, it’s up to businesses to come up with alternative accommodations, such as curbside pickup, for individuals that have legitimate issues with mask wearing.
It’s a good idea to know — and share with employees — if your state fines workplaces for masking noncompliance or offers accommodation suggestions for people that experience serious problems while wearing a mask.
Most states ‘lagging’
In September, the NSC’s Safe Actions for Employee Returns (SAFER) task force rated the pandemic response of all 50 states according to their:
- info and guidelines provided to employers on physical distancing, face covering, cleaning, etc.
- COVID-19 testing, access to testing and positivity rate
- contact tracing
- mental health and substance use resources (including expansion of telehealth and Medicaid), and
- roadway safety (In its injury facts platform, NSC detected a substantial overall increase in motor vehicle fatalities at the start of the pandemic).
Twelve states were rated “on-track,” or meeting most metrics:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- Vermont, and
Meanwhile, 29 states were “lagging,” meaning they met about half of SAFER’s metrics, and 10 states were considered “off track.”
NSC singled out Utah’s employer guidelines, Vermont’s contact tracing guidelines and Idaho’s online behavioral health hub as exceptional.
“The results demonstrate that how states have approached the pandemic matters. Even with the outbreak worsening everywhere, there are a few states that are really leading the way in responding,” NSC State Government Affairs Manager Tara Leystra said during a “State of COVID-19 Response and Future World of Work” Summit.
Resources from SAFER for employers to protect their workers during these unprecedented times can be found here.