After the last couple of years living with COVID-19, we were desperately hoping that we would not have to be talking, thinking or writing about the Monkeypox Virus (“MPV”) as a workplace safety and health issue. And while Monkeypox does NOT appear to be a COVID-19 redux, we have been getting enough questions from our clients that it now seems unavoidable that we have to dig into this. Alas, here is our first take on Monkeypox – what is it, what are the symptoms and modes of transmission, how is it similar to and different from COVID-19, and what should employers be thinking about and doing in connection with this latest plague.
The Monkeypox Virus (MPV):
Monkeypox is a zoonotic diseases, which means it is caused by a virus that is passed between animals & people. MPV was first detected in 1958 in a colony of research monkeys in Central and West Africa, and the first human case of Monkeypox was recorded in 1970. The virus that causes Monkeypox is in the same family as the virus that causes smallpox, and they involve similar, but less severe symptoms in the case of MPV.
As governors and big city mayors across the country have been allowing indoor masking mandates to expire over the last few weeks, last Friday, February 25th, the CDC unveiled a brand new approach to assessing COVID-19 risks and setting mask and distancing recommendations. The CDC’s old tool, which measured the number of COVID-19 cases to determine the relevant level of virus transmission in each community had lost its usefulness as it rendered nearly the entire country as high-risk (95% of all counties), even as the number of people getting seriously ill had dropped precipitously this year.
CDC’s new guidelines measure the impact the pandemic by looking at three factors week over week:
New cases per capita (as with the prior guidelines; but also
New COVID-19 related hospital admissions; and
The percentage of area hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
Each county will have a weekly “COVID Community Level Rating” that is either Low (green), Medium (yellow) or High (orange). Each level/color has recommended mitigation strategies, set in the table below:
Here is a link to CDC’s tool to identify the level of COVID-19 transmission in your county.
Conn Maciel Carey LLP with Special Guests Neal Katyal and Jordan Barab
In this exclusive, bonus program we will facilitate a panel discussion regarding the Supreme Court’s recent decision to stay OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test emergency temporary standard, what that decision means for employers in fed OSHA and State OSH Plan states, and how OSHA will address the COVID-19 hazard in the workplace moving forward.
We are especially excited to be hosting a remarkable cast of panelists for this event:
Neal Katyal – former Acting Solicitor General of the United States and leading Constitutional Law expert; Partner at Hogan Lovells and Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center
Jordan Barab – President Obama’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA and Acting Head of OSHA; former Sr. Policy Advisor to the US House Education and Labor Committee
The Supreme Court has spoken, and OSHA’s Vaccination, Testing and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard is once again subject to a nationwide judicial stay. The conservative majority on the Court reasoned that the 50-year old OSH Act does not include an explicit-enough delegation of authority from the US Congress for OSHA to issue a regulation that addresses an issue that is not unique to the workplace and which is of such great economic and social significance. Shortly after the Supreme Court issued its decision, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh announced that “OSHA will do everything in its existing authority to hold businesses accountable for protecting workers, including under the COVID-19 National Emphasis Program and General Duty Clause.”
So, the big question facing employers now is what are the potential regulatory pitfalls from unwinding or stopping the implementation of any of their COVID-19 prevention and/or vaccination policies developed either in response to OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test ETS or more general efforts to keep up with CDC recommendations and/or protect against OSHA General Duty Clause citations? Or said another way, without the COVID-19 emergency standards, what does OSHA expect from employers on the COVID-19 front to avoid enforcement? Continue reading →
fully vaccinated people can choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they are immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease from COVID-19, or if they have someone in their household who is immunocompromised, at increased risk of severe disease or not fully vaccinated; and
fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case be tested 3-5 days after exposure, and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.
Although the guidance speaks in absolutes, we think that the general limitations that have applied to all prior mask mandates throughout the pandemic continue to inform this updated guidance; i.e., “public indoor settings” is intended to cover locations where there is the potential for exposure to another individual, and not where an employee is “alone in a room” or “alone in a vehicle.”
Is Your County Experiencing Substantial or High Levels of Transmission?
To determine whether your workplace is in a county experiencing substantial or high transmission of COVID-19, the CDC uses two different indicators, the higher of which prevails:
total new cases per 100,000 persons over the past seven days; and
Here is a summary of the vaccine section of the guidance:
May employers ask employees about vaccination status under federal law? See FAQs K9, K5, K15, K16, K18, K19
Yes – does not violate ADA or GINA.
However, employer should not ask “why” an employee is unvaccinated, as this could compel the employee to reveal disability information that is protected under the ADA and/or GINA.
Recommended practice: If employer requires documentation or other confirmation of vaccination, “notify all employees that the employer will consider requests for reasonable accommodation based on disability on an individualized basis.”
Is vaccination information “confidential” under the ADA? See FAQ K4
Yes, this includes documentation (i.e., the white vaccination card) or “other confirmation” of vaccination, which we presume means any self-attestation form or email from the employee, as well as any record, matrix, spreadsheet, or checklist created by the employer after viewing employees’ vaccination cards or receiving a verbal confirmations from employees.
The records or information must be kept confidential and stored separately from employee personnel files.
How may employers encourage employees and family members to get vaccinated? See FAQ K3Continue reading →
We want to alert you to a significant COVID-19 development out of the CDC yesterday. Specifically, the CDC just announced a material revision to its definition of “Close Contact.” The new definition makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, not just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.
Close Contact – Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.
* Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). Data are limited, making it difficult to precisely define “close contact;” however, 15 cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of 6 feet or less can be used as an operational definition for contact investigation. Factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity (closer distance likely increases exposure risk), the duration of exposure (longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the infected individual has symptoms (the period around onset of symptoms is associated with the highest levels of viral shedding), if the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols (e.g., was coughing, singing, shouting), and other environmental factors (crowding, adequacy of ventilation, whether exposure was indoors or outdoors). Because the general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95, the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE. At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using fabric face coverings is not recommended.
CDC’s revised view of what constitutes a Close Contact is based on an exposure study at a correctional facility. Here is the CDC’s public notice about the correctional facility analysis. The analysis apparently revealed that virus was spread to a 20-year-old prison employee who interacted with individuals who later tested positive for the virus, after 22 interactions that took place over 17 minutes during an eight-hour shift.
An important consequence of this revision is the impact it will have on employers’ ability to maintain staffing because it establishes a much lower threshold trigger for required quarantine. Continue reading →
As the U.S. enters month seven of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers continue to grapple with how to keep employees safe without violating the rights of employees protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has issued guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace encouraging employers to: (1) actively encourage sick employees to stay home; (2) conduct daily in person health checks such as temperature and symptom screenings; and (3) ensure that workers are able to follow social distancing guidelines as much as practicable and encouraging employees to wear face masks where social distancing is not possible. Employers should remain vigilant against enacting policies meant to keep employees safe but have a disparate impact on employees in a protected class.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against job applicants and/or employees with disabilities. If a job applicant or employee has a disability and requests an accommodation, employers must engage in an interactive process and are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to the extent it does not cause the employer undue hardship.
In the context of COVID-19, employers may screen employees entering the workplace for COVID-19 symptoms consistent with CDC guidance. For example, an employer may: (1) ask questions about COVID-19 diagnosis or testing, COVID-19 symptoms, and exposure to anyone with COVID-19 (but employers should be sure the question is broad and does not ask employees about specific family members so as not to run afoul of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”)); (2) take an employee’s temperature; and (3) administer COVID-19 viral tests (but not anti-body tests). If an employee is screened and has symptoms that the CDC has identified as consistent with COVID-19, the employer may – and indeed, should – exclude the employee from the workplace. It is also okay – and again, advisable – for an employer to send an employee home who reports feeling ill during the workday.
Since publishing our previous post last month, there have been a number of significant developments related to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus – now officially called “COVID-19.” Notably, during the week of February 23, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) reported community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 in California, Oregon, and Washington. Community spread in Washington resulted in the first death in the U.S. from COVID-19, as well as the first reported case of COVID-19 in a health care worker, and the first potential outbreak in a long-term care facility.
Recent Developments and Federal Guidance
CDC has published an Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers, cautioning employers to use the guidance to determine the risk of the Coronavirus, and not to use race or country of origin to make a determination. The guidance covers recommended strategies for employers to use, including: (1) actively encouraging sick employees to stay home; (2) separating sick employees; (3) emphasizing staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees; (4) performing routine environmental cleaning; and (5) advising employees before traveling to consult CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices and other CDC guidance. Additionally, the guidance states that if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).