Companies looking for an official rule book on pandemic precautions will be disappointed. The Biden administration’s nationwide coronavirus vaccine mandate has been overturned. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is facing criticism for its shifting guidance on isolation times. And just as cases surge to record levels, tests are scarce — and may not always be effective.
As the federal government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus hit their limits — as the administration itself admits — employers are largely on their own.
Business leaders must decide whether and how to use tools such as their own vaccine mandates, masking, distancing, and testing at their offices and other work sites. And more fundamentally, they must decide what kind of company they want to run: one that manages cases or one that manages risk.
Managing cases, with a goal of avoiding all infections at the workplace, has been the approach of many companies thus far. This zero-Covid strategy treats the pandemic as an acute, emergency situation that requires upending business as usual. That might mean telling employees to work remotely indefinitely, with strict rules for those who come into the office.
But some experts believe that the Omicron surge could peak this month. That could allow for a relatively safe return to workplaces as soon as February, given the bolstered immunity of the millions who have been vaccinated and recovered from infections. (It may not work out that way, of course: An alternative pandemic path is “it gets worse,” said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and a former White House adviser, “which would be a disaster.”)
If the optimistic forecast pans out, it will make managing risk — not cases — a more viable option for employers who want to bring employees physically back together. Managing risk would require investment in a “new normal” of living with the virus for a long time, echoing a national strategy that a group of former White House…
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