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.
We wanted to share (hopefully) one last ETS update before Christmas. As you know, when the Fifth Circuit issued its Stay of OSHA’s Vaccination, Testing, and Face Coverings Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) in November, OSHA announced that it had “suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation.” Essentially, OSHA said it was “pencils down” completely – no longer responding to email inquiries about interpretations of ETS terms, no longer speaking/presenting about the ETS, and importantly, no longer producing additional compliance guidance or FAQs.
With the Sixth Circuit lifting the Stay last week, however, OSHA immediately updated its website to reflect that the agency “can now once again implement this vital workplace health standard.” OSHA went right back to work on compliance assistance, not just licking its chops to start enforcing the rule. Indeed, in the last couple of days, OSHA has updated its FAQs on its Vaccination and Testing ETS webpage, including several about the confusing and challenging testing elements of the ETS (See Section 6 – and 6P. through 6.X. are the news testing FAQs). Below are a few of the notable new testing-related FAQs that address questions we were fielding frequently (and thankfully answering correctly):
In September, President Biden revealed a new COVID-19 Action Plan with one of several key goals to “Vaccinate the Unvaccinated.” The most notable aspect of that plan was a directive to federal OSHA to develop another COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring many employers to implement a “soft” vaccine mandate; i.e., to require employees to either be fully vaccinated or submit to a weekly testing. The President also directed OSHA to include in this new ETS a requirement that employers provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects of the vaccine.
OSHA moved quickly in response to the President’s directive, and published the final ETS in the Federal Register on November 5, 2021. During this webinar, the attorneys from CMC’s OSHA and Employment Law practices provided a detailed analysis of the rule and addressed these important questions raised by the latest development on the COVID-19 front: Continue reading →
On Sept. 9th, President Biden revealed a new COVID-19 Action Plan with one of several key goals to “Vaccinate the Unvaccinated.” The most notable aspect of that plan is a directive to federal OSHA to develop a 2nd COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring all but small employers in all industries to implement “soft” vaccine mandates; i.e., require employees to either be fully vaccinated or get weekly testing. The President also directed OSHA to include in this new ETS a requirement that employers provide paid time for employees to get vaccinated and recover from ill effects of the vaccine. Separately, the President issued Executive Orders setting “hard” vaccine mandates for federal contractors and healthcare workers.
The President’s announcement was lean on details, and prompted as many questions as it answered. The attorneys from CMC’s OSHA and Employment Law practices discussed our take on the burning questions raised by this latest development on the COVID-19 front: Continue reading →
On Sept. 9th, Pres. Biden revealed a new COVID-19 Action Plan with one of several key goals to “Vaccinate the Unvaccinated.” The most notable aspect of that plan is a directive to federal OSHA to develop a 2nd COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring all but small employers in all industries to implement “soft” vaccine mandates; i.e., require employees to either be fully vaccinated or get weekly testing. The President also directed OSHA to include in this new ETS a requirement that employers provide paid time for employees to get vaccinated and recover from ill effects of the vaccine. Separately, the President issued Executive Orders setting “hard” vaccine mandates for federal contractors and healthcare workers.
The President’s announcement was lean on details, and prompted as many questions as it answered. Join the attorneys from CMC’s OSHA and Employment Law practices to talk through our take on the burning questions raised by this latest development on the COVID-19 front: Continue reading →
Yesterday, September 9th, President Biden issued new Executive Orders requiring federal contractors and healthcare employers to implement “hard” vaccine mandates, and directed federal OSHA to issue a new Emergency Temporary Standard that would require many employers to provide paid time for employees to get vaccinated and recover from the vaccine, and to implement “soft” vaccine mandates; i.e., require employees to either be fully vaccinated or get weekly COVID-19 testing.
The push now for a broader COVID-19 ETS applicable beyond just healthcare is a step for which we have been bracing for a while now. In June, when OSHA issued its COVID-19 ETS that was limited only to the healthcare industry, the vast majority of employers dodged the bullet, but since the explosion of new cases because of the Delta variant, we began to see that bullet more as a boomerang, likely to come back around for the rest of industry. Here are five signals we picked up that OSHA was likely to revisit its decision in June to limit its COVID-19 ETS to only healthcare employers:
The rate of community transmission and COVID-19 deaths around the country has returned to the level we were experiencing in the Spring of this year when OSHA delivered to OMB a proposed ETS that was written to cover all industries. To the extent the decline in cases and deaths was a major factor in OSHA’s decision to limit the ETS to just healthcare, that factor no longer cuts in favor of a healthcare-only rule.
Since issuing the ETS for healthcare, OSHA has been under pressure from national unions and worker advocacy groups to expand the ETS to all industries, both in the form of written comments during the ETS’s post-issuance comment period and a lawsuit filed by AFL-CIO challenging OSHA’s decision to limit the ETS to just healthcare.
There has been a growing tension between the Biden Administration and certain Republican governors, particular DeSantis in Florida and Abbott in Texas, around mask and vaccine mandates. The Biden Administration could resolve that tension by issuing a specific federal OSHA regulation setting requirements for masking and vaccinations, which would likely preempt conflicting state laws.
The White House has changed its tune about strict COVID-19 protocols and vaccine mandates dramatically since the OSHA ETS was issued. The Administration’s decision to limit the ETS to healthcare only was likely at least partially politically-motivated; i.e., a broad ETS was too unpopular due to the massive decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths. However, we have started to see President Biden take politically risky moves around vaccinations; e.g., reinstituting mask recommendations for vaccinated individuals and setting a “soft” mandate for federal workers and contractors and encouraging industry to set similar mandates. If the politics of aggressive COVID-19 requirements influenced OSHA’s decision to issue a narrow rule in June, it appears the Administration has changed its political calculation in the face of the spread of the Delta variant surge.
Those were the main signals we saw that kept us up at night worried OSHA would deliver to OMB a new or amended COVID-19 ETS that would apply to all industries. But President Biden’s announcements yesterday sent the strongest signal yet that we will soon see further regulatory action from federal OSHA on the COVID-19 front. A lot of questions remain, and we expect those to be answered in time as the new rules take effect, but we wanted to share with you what we know so far, as well as our preliminary thoughts/speculation about some of those questions.
On June 10th, federal OSHA finally revealed its much anticipated COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), but rather than a rule applicable to all industries, OSHA developed a regulation that is narrowly tailored only to certain healthcare settings. For everyone else, federal OSHA simultaneously published significant updates to its workplace COVID-19 guidance that it had originally prepared in January 2021in response to President Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order.
The COVID-19 ETS, and its 900+ page Preamble, is a dizzying piece of regulation. While there are lots of generalizations about how it applies only to hospital settings, there are quirks in the Applicability section that could sweep in other employers, including on-site medical clinics at manufacturing plants, COVID-19 testing facilities in otherwise non-healthcare workplaces, and general facilities support at healthcare locations, such as maintenance, housekeeping, and laundry services. And in terms of substantive provisions, the ETS does depart from the COVID-19 landscape we have all grown accustomed to over the past year and a half – the ETS requires creation of new roles, will likely require updates to written prevention plans and training, may require new engineering installations and work on HVAC systems, and will definitely affect record making, recordkeeping, and reporting policies.
The updated guidance for all other industries will also likely result in material changes to the way employers are managing the COVID-19 crisis in the workplace. However, those will be mostly welcome changes, as, at its core, OSHA’s updated guidance aligns OSHA’s recommendations with the CDC’s May guidance regarding dropping masks and distancing for fully vaccinated workers. But the devil is in the details.
Participants in this webinar will learn the following:
To whom, where, and when does Fed OSHA’s new COVID-19 ETS apply
What does OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS require and prohibit
What employers need to know about OSHA’s updated COVID-19 workplace guidance
The impact of vaccination and verifying vaccination status on both the ETS and OSHA’s guidance
For resources on issues related to COVID-19, please visit Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Resource Page for an extensive index of frequently asked questions with our answers about HR, employment law, and OSHA regulatory developments and guidance, as well as COVID-19 recordkeeping and reporting flow charts. Likewise, subscribe to our Employer Defense Report blog and OSHA Defense Report blog for regular updates about the Labor and Employment Law or OSHA implications of COVID-19 in the workplace. Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force is monitoring federal, state, and local developments closely and is continuously updating these blogs and the FAQ page with the latest news and resources for employers.