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Workforce

Warning of a possible COVID surge, the White House urges businesses to act now

The Biden administration has issued new recommendations for protecting workers as the nation heads into fall and winter.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Remember COVID?

The Biden administration is hoping to keep the threat top of mind among restaurateurs and other employers as the nation moves into fall and winter, when coronavirus infections have spiked earlier in the pandemic.

The White House issued a “fall playbook” on Tuesday to help businesses safeguard their employees from the virus.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Labor reminded workers Tuesday via its blog that workers impaired by what’s called long COVID could be entitled to workplace accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act from their employers. Those adjustments range from greater flexibility in their schedules to being moved to vacant positions that aren’t as taxing.

The moves are part of an effort by the White House to gird the nation for a possible surge in COVID cases as temperatures drop and more activities shift indoors, where the risk of infection is greater. There is also the possibility of a new variant arising, as happened in 2021.

Recommendations specifically for protecting the nation’s workforce were spelled out for employers in a two-page advisory. Those suggestions include:

  • Work with a local vaccination provider to set up a “clinic” on-site to provide employees with both COVID-19 booster shots and flu vaccines. The aim is to provide workers with the latest protections while on the clock.
     
  • Providing paid time off for employees who want to get the shots from a local pharmacy or other vaccine source.
     
  • Offer incentives for employees to get the vaccines and boosters.
     
  • Send the staff emails and texts that spell out why it’s important for them to be up to date on their inoculations.
     
  • Educate workers on what they can do if they suspect they’ve contracted COVID-19, such as getting tested and opting for anti-viral drugs that lessen the symptoms.

The administration is also recommending that all businesses assess and service their HVAC systems to maximize those lines of defense against the coronavirus, which can be transmitted through the air.

“We now have the tools we need to make sure that COVID-19 does not control our lives, but we must continue to use them to help to ensure that we can have a safe fall and winter,” the advisory states.

The administration noted several businesses by name in detailing what’s being done to counter the threat of COVID-19. Included were DoorDash and Uber, which have agreed to bring oral anti-viral drugs to afflicted individuals at no cost, the result of an agreement with the Walgreens pharmacy chain.

The moves come as COVID-19 is ebbing. The average daily increase in COVID cases has dropped to 37,500 for the last 14 days, according to a running tally kept by The New York Times. That figure is a fraction of how high the infection rate has soared during past surges.

President Biden ignited a controversy when he recently remarked that the worst of the pandemic is essentially past. The off-hand comment prompted health officials to warn that the global health threat has not yet been eliminated, and precautions are still warranted.

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