Every time you think it's safe to hatch plans and put Covid behind you, another variant crops up to spoil your efforts.
This time it's the BA.5 variant, a subvariant of Omicron and the virus's most transmissible version to date. The strain is reinfecting people who have already dealt with previous variants once, or even twice. While numbers are significantly lower than the peak of the winter Omicron wave, hospitalizations have almost doubled since May and more than 400 Americans are dying every day.
So it's not surprising that some employers may be putting their return to the office plans on hold--again. But before you do, factor in a few things first.
Consider that many people still think pandemic restrictions are a good idea.
Most adults, six in 10 according to a March poll from nonprofit health care policy researcher Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), believe that the worst of the pandemic is over. However, people still disagree about what returning to normal looks like and when it should happen. So it should come as no surprise that your employees may have differing opinions on what a return to work should look like.
A majority of adults are also worried that lifting some pandemic restrictions could leave immunocompromised people behind because of their increased risk of getting sick. And roughly half of those polled are worried easing restrictions could lead to an increased number of deaths in their community, or that they personally wouldn't be able to get needed medical care because local hospitals could be overwhelmed.
Most cities are unlikely to bring back mask mandates or other protective measures used earlier in the pandemic, so keeping employees safe is up to employers themselves. This means employers once again need to take into account the office or workplace environment, including ventilation, vaccination rates, community transmission, and hospitalizations.
Keep up-to-date on local transmission levels.
It's likely that the virus will pop up in hot spots with local transmission rates fluctuating over time. Substantial transmission is defined as 50 to 100 cases per 100,000, or a positivity rate between 8 and 10 percent. High transmission is defined as 100 or more cases per 100,000 people or a positivity rate of 10 percent or higher. So it's crucial you know whether your business is located in a hot spot.
When it comes to surveying your local area for the most accurate Covid information, look local first. One of the first things you should do is contact your local Chamber of Commerce and city health officials, who may have data on hospitalizations and local transmission levels. Also see what other businesses in the area are doing in regards to keeping doors open or instituting mask mandates.
There are also private health organizations such as the Mayo Clinic and the Coronavirus Digital Resource Center at Northwell Health that use data from a variety of sources to track the pandemic and make recommendations on vaccines and other ways to protect people from Covid-19. Additionally, the United States Department of Health and Human Services offers community profile reports for individual states, as well as trends in vaccines, hospital capacities, and test results. When it comes to getting an accurate picture of Covid in an area, the more sources the better.
Ensure employees are aware of new office protocols.
If employees are wary of the office, it doesn't hurt to remind them of safety procedures put in place. Whether you're cleaning spaces more often, or have sanitation stations set up, let employees know. When asked specifically what would make employees feel safe returning to the office, a 2021 survey from the Cleaning Coalition of America, an organization that represents contract cleaning professionals around the country, found regular disinfecting would be key. The following criteria also ranked toward the top: improved communication regarding Covid-19 protocols, hand sanitizer stations, and proper signage, informing of rules.
If transmission levels are high, upping your mask game may be even more integral to the health and wellness of your team. If a large portion of your staff is unvaccinated, of if you have immunocompromised employees in the workplace, it may be a good idea to ask staff to wear protective face coverings when coming into the office.