Top 10 Takeaways from The Chamber’s Covid Forum
Top 10 Takeaways from The Chamber’s Covid Forum
Top 10 Takeaways from The Chamber’s Covid Forum
What Employers Need to Know Right Now
By Katie Loovis
February 25, 2021
Today, The Chamber hosted a Covid Forum to address what employers need to know right now as it relates vaccines, testing, and employment law - and - what they need to know about the path ahead as it relates to their business continuity planning.
The forum featured six fantastic speakers who gave real-time updates and concrete advice for employers who want to get back to business in a safe and healthy way.
- The director of the Orange County Health Department, Quintana Stewart, provided the current state of play on the number of Covid cases, testing protocols, and the vaccine roll-out.
- Renowned UNC infectious disease specialist and researcher, Dr. David Wohl, shared the latest research on Covid vaccines and herd immunity modeling.
- IndyCare Health president, Dr. Franklin Roye, provided an overview of effective new employer Covid testing and vaccination strategies as well as a employer checklist for a Covid Workplace Safety Plan.
- Brooks Pierce attorney Jessi Thaller-Moran provided a summary of what employers can and cannot do as it relates to their employees and ensuring a safe and healthy workplace.
- The Town of Chapel Hill Manager, Maurice Jones, and Economic Development Director, Dwight Bassett, provided an overview of the soon-to-be-released long-term recovery plan, which successfully accounts for and addresses the needs of local businesses.
Below is a summary of the discussion and the top ten takeaways.
Top 10 Takeaways
1) Orange County's Covid Status is Improving. While Orange County Covid numbers are high (Orange Level, which means Substantial Community Spread), the numbers are dropping and that is good news. Further, UNC is doing at least weekly mandatory asymptomatic evaluation testing for students, has performed 77,000+ tests since January 1, and has a .6% positive rate.
2) State Restrictions are Easing. Governor Cooper’s Executive Order (No. 195) goes into effect this Friday, Feb 26 at 5pm and it lifts the Modified Stay at Home Order and eases certain restrictions on businesses and gatherings.
Restaurants, breweries, gyms, pools, museums, and salons can increase their capacity to 50%. Bars, movie theaters, and event venues can operate at 30% capacity, and on-site service of alcohol is extended to 11pm. Capacity restrictions on businesses and retail establishments remains at 50%.
The statewide mask mandate remains in place and everyone (even those vaccinated) are encouraged to keep doing the 3 W’s (wear a mask, wash your hands, and wait six feet apart).
3) Free Weekly Testing is Available. Free weekly testing is available for individuals in Orange County at two locations: In Hillsborough, M-F, 9am-5pm, at the Whitted Building, 300 West Tryon Street, Hillsborough, NC. In Chapel Hill M-F, 9am-5pm at the R7 Parking Lot, 725 Martin Luther King Blvd., Chapel Hill, NC (across the street from Root Cellar).
4) Employee Surveillance Testing is Available at a Reduced Cost. Regular testing of employees who are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms is a recommended practice to prevent asymptomatic spread in the workplace because up to 40% of cases are asymptomatic, individuals are most contagious 1-2 days before symptoms, and testing can detect the virus several days before symptoms.
Employee Surveillance Testing works (10X lower infection rates at Universities practicing surveillance testing). A trusted local practice (IndyCare Health) is providing Covid-19 Testing Solutions for Employers, including a pooled saliva testing process which dramatically lowers the costs from ~$120/person to ~$15/person.
5) Vaccines are Approved, Safe, and Effective. There are two approved vaccines in the U.S. (Pfizer and Moderna), both are considered safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 disease, including severe disease. There is another vaccine on the way (J&J), which is also considered safe and effective at protecting against severe COVID-19 disease and has additional benefits being a single dose and not requiring deep freeze). UNC Dr. Wohl encourages residents to accept any of the three vaccine options available.
Dr. Wohl also noted that mutations in replicating viruses, like coronaviruses, are common, and researchers are tracking three variants coming out of the UK, South Africa, and Brazil, all of which are a concern for changes in the virus that can impact human health.
6) The Vaccine Supply Chain has Serious Issues. There are serious vaccine supply chain issues in NC and Orange County currently has a 10,000 person wait list. It is legal and acceptable for Orange County residents to drive to other counties for vaccination, and if a resident is already vaccinated, then they are encouraged to take themselves off the waitlist to help expedite the process for everyone else.
There are five phases to the statewide vaccination process (health care workers, older adults, frontline essential workers, high risk adults, and then everyone else). Orange County is currently serving the first two categories and will start vaccinating essential workers on March 10. Reserve your spot online at MySpot.NC.Gov.
Eligible essential workers include the following sectors: Public Safety, Critical Manufacturing, Education, Essential Goods (sell groceries & medicine), Food & Agriculture, Government & Community Services, Healthcare & Public Health, and Transportation.
7) Rapid Employee Vaccination Strategies Will Be Available Soon. While your employees can go through the community-based process currently underway for their vaccinations, many employers are looking to partner with vaccine providers to host onsite or offsite vaccination events for their employees and expedite the process.
We believe this employer-based vaccination strategy will be become increasingly available as NC’s vaccinator roll-out plan progresses and pharmacies, independent primary care, and other providers can start vaccinating in addition to our hospitals and local health departments. Trusted local provider, IndyCare Health, is inviting employers to pre-register for a Workplace Covid-19 Vaccination Program.
8) There are Four Covid Safety Features Every Workplace Should Have. Your workplace should have the following four features, which makes up an ideal Covid workplace safety plan according to IndyCare Health president Dr. Franklin Roye:
- Sanitization, Air Purification, PPE, and Distancing (i.e. Daily sanitization protocols, appropriate use of PPE, and avoid close contacts where possible).
- Surveillance (i.e., Regular screening testing of employees for early detection of SARS-CoV-2 virus and prevention of asymptomatic spread).
- Rapid Response Protocols (i.e., Quickly isolate and test employees with symptoms, positive case exposure, or positive pooled testing result).
- Remote Temperature & Symptoms Check (i.e., Employees should check for temperature and COVID symptoms daily before coming to work).
9) Know the Legal Dos and Don’ts for a Covid-Safe Workplace. It is important for employers to be mindful of best practices for a Covid-safe and healthy workplace, including what they can and cannot require of their employees. While many of these best practices will be specific to a particular workplace and it is hard to provide one-size-fits-all guidance, guidance from government agencies, like the EEOC’s Covid guidance for employers, may be a helpful place to start.
At present and under current pandemic conditions, the EEOC’s guidance says that employers CAN require their employees to have temperature screenings, SHOULD follow the most recent guidance from authorities like the CDC and DHHS in addressing Covid-19 in the workplace, and MAY mandate employees get vaccinated, though employers should proceed with caution on vaccines and know that there are lots of exceptions and legal considerations to doing so. One possible alternative is to encourage, rather than mandate, employee vaccinations through voluntary vaccination programs and incentives. Employers should consult their legal counsel if they have questions about how to create or apply Covid practices or policies.
10) Small Business Continuity Planning Just got Easier Thanks to the Town of Chapel Hill. The Town of Chapel Hill outlined the long-term recovery plan for the community, which is called ReVive and was developed with support from Ernst & Young and in partnership with diverse community stakeholders. The plan recognizes the disproportionate impact Covid has had on the local business community and thoughtfully plans for supports and interventions that will help the business community get back on its feet. The final plan will be available soon and will focus on three pillars: Resilient Economy, Resilient Place, and Resilient People.
Disclaimer: The content of this summary is provided for general information purposes only. It should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for consulting an attorney for legal advice regarding the participant's own matters.
About the Forum: The Covid Forum was the first of ten forums in the 2021 Critical Issues Series presented by 97.9 The Hill & Chapelboro.com, Duke Energy, and Durham Technical Community College. The series convenes influential guest speakers who address timely, business-critical topics for Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro related to the economy, economic development, public policy, and elections. The Covid Forum featured a special welcome from Orange County Commissioner Dr. Amy Fowler and the speaker presentations and video of the event are available online. Listen to the 97.9 The Hill WCHL Post-Forum Radio Interview.
Contact: For questions, contact Chamber Vice President for External Affairs, Katie Loovis, at (919) 696-0781 (cell) or KLoovis@carolinachamber.org.