Last week, the Centers for Disease Control issued updated guidance for individuals vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. The key recommendation is that vaccinated individuals should return to wearing face masks indoors within areas of substantial or high transmission of the virus. Over the course of the last several days, a large number of counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were added to the list of areas of substantial or high transmission, meaning that it is now recommended that individuals in such counties return to wearing face coverings.
The updated CDC recommendation is based upon new data from an outbreak in Barnstable County, Massachusetts. Following multiple large public gatherings in that area, 469 people tested positive for COVID-19. Of this group, 346 (74%) had previously been fully vaccinated. Furthermore, of the specific specimens tested, 90% showed the presence of the Delta variant. Just as significant, the viral load levels of fully vaccinated individuals were similar to those of unvaccinated individuals. The conclusion reached from this data is that while the vaccines are effective at reducing transmission of the original version of virus, they are significantly less effective at preventing the spread of the Delta variant. The CDC has thus recommended a return to prior mask wearing and distancing measures. The specific guidance can be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html.
To be clear, the CDC reports that vaccines remain extremely effective against severe symptoms, hospitalizations and death (whether from the original virus or the Delta variant). As such, the CDC continues to strongly recommend that all people above the age of 12 be vaccinated.
The CDC also maintains a list of areas shown to have a substantial or high level of transmission. As of the period ending August 2, 2021, 29 Pennsylvania counties and virtually all of New Jersey (with the exception of Warren County) now meet this category. The transmission level of different areas may be found at: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view.
While the CDC guidance is only a recommendation (and neither Pennsylvania, nor New Jersey has yet ordered a return to mask use) employers in these areas should nonetheless consider review and re-evaluation of their own specific COVID-19 prevention plans. Plans that permit vaccinated individuals to move about the workplace without masks may no longer be compliant with the updated CDC Guidelines on this issue. Employers should therefore review this new guidance and specifically tailor their own plans to address individual business needs and the protection of their employees.
If you have any questions regarding the updated CDC guidance or on potentially altering your own workplace prevention plan accordingly, please contact one of the attorneys in our Employment Law Group at 1-888-488-2638 or email at Employmentlaw@c-wlaw.com.