Mask mandates are being lifted all over the country. Now, employers must ask themselves, “With the latest COVID-19 variant (BA.2) being 30% to 50% more contagious than Omicron (BA.1), is it safe to do this?” After all, it’s their responsibility to keep their employees safe.
Currently, BA.2 accounts for nearly 55% of all new infections in the U.S., according to the CDC. And BA.2 has many of the same mutations as Omicron, but it also has 28 “unique genetic changes,” reports Scientific American. Luckily, it appears that BA.2’s symptoms aren’t more severe than Omicron in vaccinated people or people who previously had COVID-19.
So, it appears to be OK to remove masks mandates if you haven’t already. However, encouraging unvaccinated workers to get vaccinated is still vital.
New study’s take
A recent WTW study coming out in May, shows that employers with mask mandates will keep them in place for now. (A smart idea due to the contagiousness of BA.2.) The plan for most employers is to do away with their mask mandates by the end of the year. Only 14% of employers plan to have their mask mandates in place in 2023.
“Most employers are following national guidelines in removing mask mandates. For those employers with vaccine mandates already in place, these are generally well-accepted and there is little urgency to remove them,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, MD, population health leader, WTW. “However, our previous research found that employees who work at companies without a vaccine mandate are more likely to oppose them. I expect few employers will implement new ones at this point.”
The Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey, conducted in March, petitioned 636 U.S. employers. Here are additional key findings that were released before the study:
- Vaccine mandates: While one in three employers (38%) require employee vaccinations, only 5% said they will discontinue the mandate in 2022. Thirty-three percent said they’ll keep their vaccine mandates in place. And 10% have already dropped their vaccination requirements.
- Long-COVID: Even if employers aren’t worried as much about the spread of COVID-19 as they were last year, more than half have concerns about Long COVID. Fifty-four percent said they consider Long-COVID an issue for their workforce. Forty-seven percent of them said they’ve provided accommodations, such as reduced hours and remote work. And 29% expect to provide accommodations in the future. In addition, 45% of respondents added or enhanced access to mental health services and 32% expect to do so in the future.
- Remote work: Even though nine in ten employers (88%) had all or a portion of their remote employees return to the office, when compared to pre-pandemic numbers, three times as many employees will continue to work remotely by the end of 2022.