Identifying outbreaks early is more critical than ever given the higher transmission rates associated with Delta. The November 4 ETS announcement from The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) now requires organizations with 100 or more employees to mandate a COVID-19 vaccination policy or track weekly testing of unvaccinated employees, which can be a difficult administrative undertaking, adds considerable urgency to finding a solution. Combined with new recommendations on booster shots, this dynamic situation keeps raising the bar of what these programs need to manage.
Covid-related hospitalizations recently exceeded 100,000 patients nationwide, a level not seen since January 2021, before vaccines were widely available. This rapid surge has forced some companies to delay planned returns to in-person work, various locations to impose proof of vaccination for patrons, and organizations like McDonald’s to reconsider closing indoor seating in counties with high levels of Covid cases.
Other indicators of potential disruptions continue to emerge:
“Weekly domestic flights declined last week, for the second time since mid-April. The median number of trips Americans took at least 10 minutes from home also declined in July, data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show. Workplace visits leveled off last week after mostly rising for months, according to data from Brivo, which tracks the number of times people use credentials to gain access to commercial buildings.” — The Covid-19 variant is damping demand and raising costs after a spring and summer that seemed to promise a rapid recovery, The Wall Street Journal
One reason for the renewed attention is the Delta variant’s shift in transmission rates. According to the Yale Medicine article 5 Things to Know About the Delta Variant, Delta has spread 50% faster than the Alpha variant, which was 50% more contagious than the original strain. “It’s actually quite dramatic how the growth rate will change,” notes Dr. F. Perry Wilson, epidemiologist with Yale Medicine. “Because of the math, it grows exponentially and more quickly. So, what seems like a fairly modest rate of infectivity can cause a virus to dominate very quickly.”
Why It Matters
Recent FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine has caused many organizations to implement policies mandating regular testing of unvaccinated employees. Moving from emergency authorization to official approval, a condition many unions demanded before agreeing to any mandate, along with the White House announcement has forced companies to sort out the contours of how they should manage the administrative challenges of ongoing, weekly testing requirements. The CDC’s recommendation of booster shots adds yet another layer of complexity to these programs.
Given the number of scenarios involved, it isn’t surprising that organizations are choosing their own path. The Chicago Tribune article Offices divided? As workers return, some businesses will treat the unvaccinated differently notes the variance in Return to Work programs:
Some workplaces are requiring all their employees be vaccinated unless they have medical or religious reasons not to be. Still others are not mandating the shots but requiring weekly COVID-19 tests and masking for those who don’t have them.
“It’s a balance because employers are starting to encourage employees to come back to work and try to restore some of the camaraderie that existed pre-pandemic, but they also have to be careful about maintaining health and safety in the workplace,” said Gregory Abrams, a partner at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath in Chicago. “As with everything COVID-related, employers are dealing with uncharted territory.”
Jaime Henry, Director of Market Strategy for Origami Risk, has worked on Origami’s Covid-related solutions since the beginning of the pandemic. This award-winning suite of solutions includes features for tracking outbreaks and vaccinations. It also now includes the ability to track regular testing of unvaccinated employees and manage booster shot regimes by the manufacturer.
For organizations trying to stand up a vaccination and testing program, Henry offered these thoughts:
- Don’t underestimate the burden – The administrative and regulatory hurdles associated with these programs can easily swamp those tasked with implementing it.
- Spreadsheets are a bad idea – Given the need to attach automated workflows to various triggers and the need to lock down access to employee health data, spreadsheets are a poor fit.
- Speed matters – Many organizations are already stretched thin and need to implement an effective program as quickly as possible (especially with new regulations looming) without taxing available resources even more.
- Adopt a “next challenge up” mentality – Look for flexibility in solutions that help you not only solve this specific challenge, but also sets your organization up to pivot with the next crisis.
When it comes to putting technology and data to work, Origami client Compass Group USA — a food service and support services provider with over 200,000 employees—is an organization that continually applies what Henry refers to as “a ‘next challenge up’ mentality.”
For example, when Hurricanes Harvey and Irma made landfall in August 2017, the Compass risk management team acted quickly to use their existing location hierarchy and audit functionality in Origami to capture business closure and property damage information for locations in Texas and Florida. (Click here to read the case study.)
Beginning in the early stages of the pandemic, Compass began leveraging Origami as what Scott Echerd, Director of Strategic Initiatives for the organization, refers to as a “multi-use data intake engine” for securely capturing information related to potential Covid cases. In addition to using the system to collect data, track, and follow up on workplace exposures, Compass is also tracking vaccinations for its employees, contractors, and vendors.
- Start with your day-to-day tasks and workflows – Setting up a program for tracking exposures, vaccinations, etc. can seem overwhelming. As a starting point, consider how you will leverage the information in your day-to-day tasks and workflows.
- Be flexible and be prepared for change – Over the course of the pandemic, the processes that have been put into place had to be flexible enough to be adapted to the ever-changing realities of the pandemic. According to Echerd, nothing that the Compass team has implemented for collecting, tracking, and following up on Covid-related information is the same as was initially designed.
- The sooner you get started the better – The sooner you put into place a system for managing vaccinations, the sooner you will have access to information that can help your organization better understand if your employee population is meeting the vaccination-related requirements of customers and vendors, as well as local, state, and (potentially) federal requirements.
Over the course of the pandemic, each new development has brought with it additional challenges for organizations to solve. Being able to use technology to reduce the burden placed on resources charged with implementing these programs is a worthy goal, but only if those solutions are flexible enough to support the unique combination of policies and procedures your organization has chosen. As Echerd puts it, “We have learned that through this process that we have to be flexible to the ever-changing needs and rules around the pandemic, but yet prepared enough to think a couple steps ahead.”
To learn more about how Origami's award-winning COVID-19 Solution Suite can help your organization overcome challenges related to the Delta variant or unvaccinated testing mandates, watch Solution Demo & Overview: COVID-19 Booster Tracking & Employee Testing or reach out to us to start a conversation.