COVID-19: The Look Ahead for 2021

During the early onset of COVID-19 it would have been hard for most of us to imagine the impact, change, and devastation that has resulted.  There is no easy way to sum up a year as difficult as 2020.  The definition of “loss” took many shapes and forms. Hardships associated with COVID-19 have not disappeared as we close out this first month of a new year.  We have hit unfathomable and grim milestones such as 400,000+ deaths in the United States and new cases in the last seven days being 1,357,890 (*CDC update – Jan. 21, 2021.) .   All of this confirms the fight is far from over.

The first month of 2021 has offered something that was noticeably absent in 2020 – optimism.  There have been many paths taken, new roads created, and countless stories of heroes on the frontline that deserve our continued respect and gratitude.  We now have the reality of multiple vaccines available and administered, regardless of the logistical bottlenecks that have hampered the initial rollout. The graphic from the CDC below confirms this growing optimism via number of shots administered into the arms of U.S. citizens.

The look ahead concerning what employers will face varies drastically in complexity and range.  For some, bringing employees back to the office – safely – for the first time in over a year remains the top priority.  For others, employees that never left are focusing on re-evaluating current processes to see what improvements can be made to their COVID infrastructure and protocol.  Many questions remain including: When is the right time to bring all employees back?  What policies should be in place?  What is protocol when someone tests positive for COVID-19?  All these questions, and more, are a reality for the plethora of employers that have engaged with a remote worker platform since the onset of the pandemic.

All of these questions and many more will require thought, teamwork, planning, and proper execution of a formal plan.  Every company has a different trajectory.  No matter where your company currently sits in this process, there is advice, guidance, and counsel available.

A popular question posed to us is “How do we wade through the vast amount of information available?”  There is a seemingly endless pipeline of information.  Every link and resource can take you down a rabbit-hole that can, in short order, consume your entire day.  Having depth of understanding and knowing which resources are the best for your company at a current point in time is one value we can bring to your organization to assist in these important decisions.

As your company takes that next step forward from a risk management perspective, recognize that you will likely face a wave of unique and challenging scenarios.  There may not be an exact handbook or policy written for each obstacle you will encounter.  Remaining flexible and prepared to assess on a case-by-case basis is the greatest piece of advice we continue to offer.

What may have seemed like an infringement on an employee’s right in years past, may not exactly be the case in post-COVID workplace.  This leads us to the question of what are employers allowed to ask?  Something as simple as physically entering the building if they have been diagnosed with or tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting results?  The answer is YES, you can ask that.   An employer may exclude those with COVID-19, or symptoms associated with COVID-19, from entering the workplace because, as EEOC has stated, “their presence would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others”.

The EEOC laws, including the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, continue to apply during the time of the pandemic, but they do not interfere with or prevent employers from following the guidelines and suggestions made by the CDC or state/local public health authorities about steps employers should take regarding COVID-19. Employers should remember that guidance from public health authorities is likely to change as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. Therefore, employers should continue to follow the most current information via the CDC as well as maintaining workplace safety, which OSHA has created a resource for:

If you have any questions regarding your planning and decision-making processes, reach out to a trusted Sentinel Risk Advisor for continued guidance.

Dana Vorholt

Dana Vorholt earned his Master’s degree in Safety and Environmental Management from West Virginia University, and is an accredited Associate of Risk Management. As Director of Risk Management, Dana’s professional passion puts Sentinel clients on the path to workplace safety, compliance and optimal profitability. Vorholt is widely known and well respected in the loss control arena. He provides workplace and occupational safety guidance and training, assuring compliance standards are met for businesses with a diverse set of operational risk portfolios.

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