In December 2020, a new variant of the coronavirus quickly swept through India before spreading to the United States. According to CDC estimates, the Delta variant is now responsible for roughly 99% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S
Part of the reason for the rapid rise of this variant is the rate at which it spreads. The strain is believed to be 50% more contagious and spreading 50% faster than the original COVID strain.
The majority of patients hospitalized as a result of the Delta variant were individuals who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine. While cases of the COVID-19 variant have been identified in vaccinated individuals, symptoms have been mostly mild and similar to the common cold. Many health experts continue to suggest that everyone wear masks regardless of vaccination status. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is developing a rule that would require employers of over 100 employees to mandate vaccinations or implement weekly COVID testing procedures.
As the charts below show, the United States has seen a large uptick in the rate of new cases per day nearing the highs of the pandemic in the Fall and Winter of 2020. Part of this increase could be due to the return to school for children across the United States and more prevalent return to work policies. New statistics show that more than 200 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, representing approximately 64% of the population. The new OSHA initiative will likely increase these figures.
New Cases of COVID-19 in the United States
Vaccinations in the United States
As a result of the continued spread of the Delta variant, states and companies across the United States are reconfiguring their restrictions on social distancing and travel. For example, Hawaii is one of several states requiring a multi-day quarantine period when entering the state and has gone as far as to put out official statements requesting that non-essential travelers postpone their visit.
Common social distancing practices are also being reinstated in many states such as the early closure of bars, reduction of store capacity to near 50%, and issuance of universal mask mandates. Due to the evolving nature of restrictions, it is advised that travelers routinely check on local restrictions in their destination region/state.
Recommendations and best practices to consider:
- Reducing the Risk of Transmission at the Office – Employees who live in a community or region that has a relatively high infection rate (50 cases per 100,000) should consider remaining remote until transmission rates decrease. Flexible or staggered scheduling can help reduce transmission rates in the office through decreased contact with other employees. Increasing the ventilation and exposure to outdoor air in the office, coupled with proper disinfecting practices, has also been tied to reduced transmission rates.
- Travel – The CDC recommends abstaining from travel if you are unable to maintain six feet of distance between members of your party and others. When this is not possible, masks are highly recommended to reduce the likelihood of transmission. Travelers should also check the transmission rates of their destination and consider postponing their travel if transmission rates have been increasing. A common best practice is to self-quarantine before leaving and after returning from your trip.
- Incentives and Convenience to Increase Vaccination Rates – Numerous employers and state governments have offered paid time off and even financial incentives to employees willing to receive the COVID vaccine. The CDC has also published guidance for employers wishing to conduct workplace vaccinations. This strategy, coupled with incentives, could increase the rate of vaccination for those who may not be motivated to get the vaccine. The specifics and rollout date of President Biden’s vaccination plan are still unclear, though it is likely that there will be a major push on employers to incentivize vaccination among employees.
The situation surrounding COVID is fluid and likely to continue to change as more information is gathered. An increase in COVID cases similar to 2020 surrounding the cold and flu season could lead to additional restrictions in the Winter of 2021.
Regardless of vaccination status, it is important to stay up to date on CDC guidelines regarding best practices for reducing the risk of transmitting COVID-19 and the Delta variant.