What should employers know about the new variants of COVID-19? How can management teams prepare for new strains?
News and Updates on the COVID-19 Variants
There are 6 highly transmissible variants: B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B1.351 or 501Y.V2 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), B.1.427(California), B.1.429 (Epsilon), and B.1.617 (Delta)
There is concern the COVID-19 variant mutations will have slightly weakened protection from the vaccines
We are not sure how effective certain viral tests are at identifying the variants
What businesses should know about the arrival of the new variants
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) website provides information and updates related to the COVID-19 variants.
What is a variant?
Viruses are constantly mutating and, over time, they can become variants. Some emerging variants disappear and others persist.
What do we know about the new variants?
Currently five variants of the virus have been identified in the U.S. which spread more easily and faster than previous variants. India has a new variant which poses a global concern but has not been noted as present in the U.S.
Alpha Variant: What you need to know
One of the first variants to arrive in the US was the Alpha variant identified last fall in the UK. This variant is also referred to as B.1.1.7.
Studies report that this variant is more fatal than others. The variant was first detected in a US case last December.
Beta Variant: What you need to know
The Beta variant is known as B1.351 or 501Y.V2 and was first identified last October in South Africa. This variant was first detected in a US case in late January.
Gamma Variant: What you need to know
The Gamma variant, also known as P.1, was identified in Brazilian travelers at an airport in Japan in January. Additional mutations in this variant may impact it being identifiable by antibodies. The mutations present a danger of reinfection and potential diminished vaccine efficacy if the variant is able to evade our immune system. This variant was first detected in a US case in late January.
Epsilon Variants: What you need to know
There are two Epsilon variants, they are also referred to as B.1.427 and B.1.429, they were first identified in February 2021. They were classified as VOCs, variants of concern, in March 2021
Delta Variant: What you need to know
The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617, was designated as a global “variant of concern” in May 2021 and has reached the U.S. According to the WHO, preliminary studies show this variant, like the others listed above, spreads more easily than other strains of the new coronavirus. The variant was found in India.
What we don’t know about the variants
Will the new variants impact the efficacy of the vaccine?
According to nature, scientists are still debating whether the new variants will impact the effectiveness of the current COVID-19 vaccines. There are vaccine developers that plan to update their shots to target the variants.
According to CNBC, the FDA may eliminate the lengthy clinical trial requirement for COVID-19 vaccines modified to work against the variants. Pfizer and Moderna are already working on modifying their vaccines given the variants and the current mutation rate. HR managers should monitor the variants that enter their workplace. They should have a system to track of who has been vaccinated with the current vaccine and who receives the variant modified vaccines or boosters.
Do the new variants impact the accuracy of COVID-19 tests?
The FDA has noted that the new COVID-19 variants may cause molecular tests to generate false negatives. Further studies are needed to identify the impact each new variant may have on the accuracy of COVID-19 tests.
Proactive health safety measures can help you prevent outbreaks
Health screening for work should be a requirement, if not already
Health screenings for work should be a requirement to ensure employee safety. Businesses will need to implement multiple health safety measures to manage the new variants and increased COVID-19 cases. Even organizations without state, local, or public health screening guidelines should make screening employees a requirement to prevent outbreaks,
Logging close contacts in the workplace is essential before employees report positive for a rapid response
California’s OSHA requires employers send exposure notifications to employees, contractors, and other employers within 24 hours. These notifications are to inform them that they were exposed to someone infected COVID-19. All business owners should send notifications to potentially exposed employees as soon as possible to prevent outbreaks.
Employers should have access to a platform where they can easily see which employees were exposed to the virus. Additionally, employees should be able to easily report their close contacts to create a safe and healthy workplace.
Encouraging and tracking vaccine adoption can help you achieve herd immunity
The COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. safeguard us against most variants spreading in the U.S. The current vaccines will have the benefit of strengthening your immune system overall and potentially lessen the impact of a COVID-19 variant infection. As Dr. Fauci notes, the vaccines provide protection from the virus and prevent the emergence of new variants. Widespread vaccination is crucial to prevent new strains and mutations. The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine is crucial to fight the variants, a new study found that, after two weeks of the second dose, the vaccine was 88% effective against the Delta variant and and 93% effective against the Alpha variant.
Time to review your safety protocols and ensure they will meet this new challenge
Employers should feel confident that their pandemic safety program can handle emerging variants. Companies that do not prepare may face losses in productivity.
If your current process is manual, when variants spread and new cases arise, you will need to hire more employees to manage your workload. Are you currently using paper-based screening surveys and manual contact tracers? Automating these processes can be more cost-effective and enables management to take action in real time to prevent outbreaks.
If your current solution is digital, does it meet all your needs? Employers should evaluate their current solution to ensure it meets all their pandemic safety requirements. Does your screening solution encourage and track compliance? Are administrators easily able to track close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases?
Employers, especially those for larger organizations should consider risk mitigation strategies. A broad based testing program allows organizations to identify asymptomatic cases and infection hotspots. Finally, employers should have a system in place to keep track of employee vaccination status and workplace immunity levels.
We collected a few pieces this month to highlight key features and best practices for screening, testing, and contact tracing. These tools can help you prevent outbreaks as we wait for the vaccines and prepare for variants to surge in March.
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Best Practices and Options for Employee COVID-19 Testing
HR leaders should consider implementing a COVID-19 testing program to prevent outbreaks. Check out our blog to learn more about employee testing options and best practices. Read more
What to Include in Employee Screening for COVID-19?
Employee screening is essential for keeping high risk individuals out of the workplace. Take a look at our blog to learn more about COVID-19 screening requirements, guidelines, and key components. Read more
Easily Comply with Cal/OSHA AB 685
An Infectious Disease Management platform should give employees a sense of ease knowing that their employer is taking their health seriously. Use this checklist to evaluate each option. Download here
Are you looking for screening, contact tracing, testing, and vaccine management tools for your organization? Book a demo to try them out!
The Coronavirus pandemic has had a serious impact on our country’s most vulnerable, with long-term carecommunities at the top of the list. The elderly are most at-risk for experiencing severe and life-threatening symptoms of COVID-19. Operating and managing Independent Living, Personal Care, and Skilled Nursing across three campuses, Redstone Highlands Communities took immediate action to protect the vulnerable populations that they serve.Bypartnering with ReturnSafe, Redstone has been better able to keep residents and staff healthy and safe and reduced community spread.
Proactive Pandemic Safety Is Top Priority for Redstone
Redstone first partnered with ReturnSafe to transition from a manual daily health screening process to a digital solution. Their previous system relied heavily on a front-office employee to help with written attestation and temperature checks, causing long lines at shift change. This process costs $14,000 per month to staff across 3 facilities. Additionally, when outbreaks occurred, these employees were also responsible for identifying and contacting exposed individuals, a slow and manual process. With staff shortages across the communities, keeping employees healthy to care for residents was essential, and speed and efficiency critical.
Employees have been reporting their COVID-19 symptoms, exposure, and contacts in ReturnSafe’sdaily health screening app since July 2020. Administrators can monitor and respond to screening survey results through a centralized dashboard. The solution’s customizability makes it easy to adhere to the constantly evolving guidelines and requirements set forth by local and state public health agencies. Redstone estimates that they are saving $154,500 per year by using ReturnSafe for their screening process.
Redstone also began on-site testing at all of their communities, which, combined with daily health screening, allows them to quickly identify and respond to potential outbreaks. By implementing these measures, Redstone has successfully kept their infection rate well below their county’s overall average.
Even before the COVID-19 vaccines were approved, Redstone administrators were surveying staff and residents on their willingness to be vaccinated. Early data showed that a majority of residents hoped to be vaccinated as soon as possible, but less than half (40 percent) of employees were willing to get vaccinated when a vaccine became available to them. Leaders at Redstone knew that increasing their population’s willingness to get vaccinated would be critical in achieving herd immunity. An informational brochure was developed that explained the vaccines in understandable and relatable language. Frequently asked questions were highlighted on “stall notes” hung in employee bathroom stalls. Respected leaders were readily available to answer questions and discuss vaccine decisions. Colorful vaccine hero buttons were distributed to those who were planning to be vaccinated and an upbeat video was produced, sharing testimony from all levels of employees who were ready to be vaccinated.
On Monday, January 11, Redstone Highlands Communities held their first “Vaccine Day”. It was a very exciting day where residents and staff received the COVID-19 vaccine. Despite the seriousness of the pandemic, there was a festive atmosphere as employees and residents embraced the opportunity to be vaccinated.
Three Keys to Overcoming Workplace Vaccine Hesitancy
As vaccines are rolled out across the country, reducing workplace vaccine hesitancy is top of mind for today’s HR executives. Individuals who are hesitant about taking the vaccine may be concerned about vaccine safety and health risks. Redstone originally expected 40% of their residents and staff would get vaccinated. However, as the first round of vaccines concluded they were able to increase participation to over 80% of employees and 99% of residents! How were they able to encourage adoption? Three core components were crucial to their success.
Be a Trusted Source of Information
Through the survey process, Redstone was able to identify the most common concerns about the vaccine shared among employees. Redstone established itself as a dependable source of vaccine information amongst staff and residents. Through the production of print materials, handouts, posters, letters, social media, and emails – myths about the vaccine were addressed and fact-based knowledge was provided.
Establish a Safe and Inclusive Culture
Employees should feel safe and supported by their peers and management. They need to feel that their employers are taking adequate measures to keep them safe. In the case of Redstone’s vaccine initiative, morale played a major part in easing resident and staff concerns. At this time, Redstone has not made the vaccine mandatory. Redstone believes that creating an environment of safety and trust went further in increasing participation, without negatively impacting employee morale. Trusted Redstone leaders also fielded dozens of phone calls and in-person visits with employees to openly discuss vaccine concerns, and to be supportive partners in vaccine decisions.
Build Trust By Being Proactive
By establishing a simple and accessible screening and testing process, Redstone demonstrated that the health of their staff and residents was the top priority. These actions built trust between them and their community. Their consistent communication and dedication to informing their community have built upon that rapport. Employees and residents trusted Redstone and were willing to get vaccinated to keep their community safe. In addition, employee benefits and incentives were extended to those who chose to be vaccinated. For example, in the unlikely case that an employee tests positive for COVID-19 after vaccination, that employee will be provided with paid time off to complete the quarantine or to recover. Those who chose not to be vaccinated, elect to forego this benefit.
What should employers do to prepare for the vaccine?
There are manyresources available to help guide you and your team as you establish a COVID-19 vaccine management plan. The best defense against workplace vaccine hesitancy is information to assure employees that they are making an informed decision. Like Redstone, employers should begin enacting measures now to encourage employee vaccine adoption.The CDC provides aVaccine Communications Toolkit for Essential Workers to help educate employees about COVID-19 vaccines. The toolkit informs employees of vaccination benefits, and addresses common questions and concerns.ReturnSafe provides vaccination management capabilities to help organizations on the path to herd immunity. This service includes surveying employee vaccination sentiment and tracking vaccination status across your organization.Book a demo to learn more about ReturnSafe’s vaccine management and health screening services.
Like most organizations, you probably have a daily health screening solution to ensure that only employees that meet your return to work criteria have access to the facility. However, screening alone does not protect your community from the silent spread of infection. Employees infected with COVID-19 but are pre-symptomatic and those that are infected but are asymptomatic may unintentionally spread the virus at your workplace.
An employee COVID-19 testing program is a vital addition to preventing outbreaks. Even though a vaccine rollout is underway, the new highly transmissible variants on the rise threaten workplace safety. Given these circumstances, you should update your safety protocols to include a broad-based testing program to ease the concerns of staff and patrons.
There are three different methods organizations can utilize for employee COVID-19 testing: at home tests, on-site testing, and off-site testing. This blog evaluates each option and reviews overall best practices for testing in the workplace.
Can You Mandate Employee COVID-19 Testing?
Yes, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commision (EEOC) states that employers may administer COVID-19 tests to keep workplaces safe. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires that mandatory medical tests of employees are “job related and consistent with business necessity”. According to the ADA, if employers administer tests according to current CDC guidance then this meets the “business necessity” standard.
PCR versus Antigen
You should evaluate which type of COVID-19 test would work best for your organization. Currently there are two types of diagnostic tests for COVID-19, PCR and Antigen. PCR tests are the gold standard in terms of accuracy. However, these tests are generally more expensive and take longer to deliver results than Antigen.
Antigen tests are more accurate if the operator is someone already experienced with the testing system. Organizations can use theBD Veritor System to improve accuracy. Due to demand for this system by the federal government this system is not always accessible.
Another option is to use both Antigen and PCR Tests. You can use Antigen as your primary test and PCR as the secondary test if you suspect a false positive. In this case, you can use PCR to verify the result, so you don’t lose employee productivity.
You should evaluate which diagnostic test works best for your organization. Once you have decided, the next step is to decide on the best testing method.
Type of test
What it detects
Level of Accuracy
Time to Results
Detects specific proteins from the active virus
$5 – $35
Detects active virus genetic material
$65 – $150
At Home Testing
Employees can order and self-administer at home tests. This can be a benefit for companies that wish not to be directly involved in employee COVID-19 testing. The turnaround time for at home tests ranges from a few minutes to a few days. Employees and human resource administrators should ensure these testing providers have obtained anFDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
A drawback of at-home tests is that administrators cannot verify the designated employee self-administered a COVID-19 test. These tests also vary greatly in terms of accessibility. For example, theBinaxNOW™ test by Abbot is hard to access given the demand for these tests by the federal government.
The test’s accuracy is also dependent on the employee’s administration. Administrators concerned about accuracy and compliance should choose tests that are relatively easy to use.
Experienced professionals administer on-site tests to employees at a work site. As opposed to at-home tests, human resources can verify that the operators administered COVID-19 tests to the right employee. On-site testing encourages compliance since employees can access the resource at work.
Companies that test on-site create a positive and trusting work environment. Employees feel supported when businesses are proactive about health and safety.
On-site testing is a great option for essential businesses and other high-risk organizations. In these industries, administrators must confirm employees received the right test and react immediately to positive test results. On-site testing is also the best option for businesses with a large number of employees.
A disadvantage of on-site testing is that businesses are taking on the responsibility of testing. When on-site testing, you must ensure that your labs are following the appropriate sanitation and privacy protocol. Additionally, you must adhere to federal guidelines regarding on-site testing.
If your company wishes to do on-site testing, you must adhere to federal mandates for employee COVID-19 testing. Businesses must obtain aCLIA license or hire an organization with a mobileCLIA lab certificate to do on-site testing.
External testing providers, outside of an organization’s worksite, provide off-site testing for employees. Similar to on-site tests, professionals can confirm that the right employees received the COVID-19 test. Off-site testing centers often have better equipment than those on-site, which can improve the accuracy of test results. Best of breed off-site testing centers assess employee COVID-19 tests as soon as possible.
There are some issues that can arise with off-site testing. For example, an employee COVID-19 testing location separate from your worksite may be inaccessible. If employees have to travel outside of work for a test this might diminish compliance. Additionally, off-site testing is less effective if there is a slow turnaround time.
When evaluating a solution, you should consider which testing options are best fit for your organization in the long-term.
No matter which option you choose, employers need a solution for managing the entire testing process. TheCDC’s guidance encourages testing employees with COVID-19 symptoms or potential exposure.
You should encourage all employees reporting symptoms or exposure to seek testing. In addition, you should consider establishing a broad-based testing program for everyone’s safety. This program should allow you to see positive test results immediately.
An effective test management system should also integrate with a contact tracing solution. This solution should provide a list of the close contacts of employees infected with COVID-19 and their contact information. Once you have this information, your team should send the appropriate advisories to these employees as soon as possible to prevent further infection.
Beyond a strong diagnostic testing system, employers should use testing as a risk mitigation tool. Companies can regularly test all or a sample of employees to identify high-risk areas of infection at the workplace. This process is known as surveillance testing. Surveillance testing also allows employers to capture potentially asymptomatic employees.
As an HR leader, you should have one centralized and secure location where you can store important testing information and manage risk. The solution should be scalable, customizable, and integrate with other health safety tools. Our platform provides holistic screening, testing, and contact tracing tools to help employers prevent outbreaks.
Book a demo to learn more about our COVID-19 testing, screening, and contact tracing tools!