Preparing for Increased Absenteeism in January

Key Points:

  • In today’s Recommendations for Industry, we discuss increased absenteeism in the new year and look at this week’s Risk Matrix. Read more below.
  • OSHA Withdrew its COVID-19 Healthcare ETS a week after it had reached its six-month expiration date, with the exception of the recordkeeping requirements, which remain in place under a separate provision of OSH Act. OSHA is continuing to work on a permanent version of the rule. The decision does not affect OSHA’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing ETS that applies to American businesses with 100 or more employees. Enforcement of that measure is slated to begin on Jan. 10, three days after the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on whether to block it and a health-care worker vaccination mandate.
  • Moderna and J&J Boosters Said to Protect against Omicron.
  •  Moderna announced that its COVID-19 vaccine booster significantly increased antibodies against Omicron, saying data show that it can boost neutralizing antibody levels 37-fold higher than pre-boost levels. A double-dose booster, equivalent to that used in the main shots, given primarily to immunocompromised people, raised antibody levels by 83 times.
  • A Johnson & Johnson study showed that two shots of the vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization from Omicron by 85 percent. Although CDC is recommending a preference for the other boosters, the results are particularly important for vaccination efforts in Africa, where J&J is a mainstay of COVID public health efforts. 
  • Two new over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests have been brought to U.S. market. The tests, one manufactured by SD Biosensor and distributed by Roche and the other manufactured by Siemens, have received FDA emergency use authorization (EUA) after being evaluated through the Administration’s new accelerated pathway to support FDA review of tests with potential for large-scale manufacturing.
  • A rising number of pediatric cases have convinced officials in some states to order a return to remote learning after the winter break. Around 300 schools in Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York will remain closed. With cases surging in Northeast Ohio, the  Cleveland Metropolitan School District also announced that all schools in the district will conduct classes through remote learning through at least the first week of January. Some provinces of Canada also have returned to remote learning.
  • Researchers found SARS-CoV-2 in 36% of white-tailed deer in Ohio, with evidence of deer-to-deer spread, according to a study late last week in Nature. The evidence “leads toward the idea that we might actually have established a new maintenance host outside humans,” said the senior author, an Ohio State University Professor. A previous study found about the same level of COVID-19 infection in Iowa deer, and Canada reported SARS-CoV-2 in deer earlier this month.

Food Safety:

  • A Dubai Restaurant is using Technology Against Seafood Fraud. Diners ordering fish receive a QR code with their order which links to a web page that shows when and where their fish was caught, how it was transported, and provides certifications that it was sustainably sourced. The traceability is provided by Seafood Souq, an e-commerce marketplace that tracks every point on the supply chain.

Recommendations for Industry

Preparing for Increased Absenteeism in January

TAG’s weekly COVID-19 matrix is showing that cases of Omicron are surging in some parts of the U.S., primarily in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Florida, Ohio, and Illinois, while other states are still dealing with Delta and not yet seeing a significant surge. Some of the variation, however, may also be due to availability of testing, as higher testing is likely to equate to higher recorded rates. On the other hand, the increase in at-home testing may cause recorded rates to be lower than actual.

At the same time, as we reported on Tuesday, CDC issued new guidance shortening isolation periods. While this can be advantageous to ensuring sufficient workforce numbers, TAG is recommending that employers look for a steady and reliable source of antigen testing – both to comply with the upcoming OSHA ETS and as a tool to verify that employees are negative before leaving isolation and coming back to work. The New York Times cited unpublished federal modeling data that shows someone released on day 5 of isolation has a 13 percent chance of infecting others.  Prematurely allowing employees back without a negative antigen test could result in more employee absenteeism if someone released from isolation infects two or three coworkers. 

Absenteeism is likely to be high in January from both Omicron infections and some parents again needing to be home for their children’s return to remote learning. So, ensuring that your critical and core functions and staffed will remain key to weathering the next surge.

Risk Matrix:

In case you missed it

  • In Tuesday’s Recommendations for Industry, we discussed CDC’s COVID updates in which it recommends shortening isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to five days, if asymptomatic, followed by five days of wearing a mask when around others. CDC also now recommends five days quarantine followed by strict mask use for an additional five days for those unvaccinated/unboosted; 10 days masking for those who are boosted; testing at day 5 after exposure for all; and immediate quarantine upon symptom occurrence until a negative test result. Read more here.
  • On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced new actions to fight Omicron, including purchasing 500 million at-home tests to be distributed for free beginning next month. Americans will be able to order at-home tests from a government website to be delivered to their house for free. The plan also calls for the Defense Production Act to produce as many at-home tests as possible and for the establishment of federal testing sites, beginning in New York City this week.
  • Omicron cases rose by 51% in the past week in the U.S. leading to work disruptions, flight cancellations, and overrun testing capacity. The 7-day average of new daily cases is 203,511. (CIDRAP)
  • New daily record highs are being recorded globally for COVID-19, mainly due to Omicron, including France, Italy, Australia, and China. The UK reported more than 98,000 COVID-19 cases, confirming 45,307 more Omicron cases, raising its total to 159,932. So far, 407 people have been hospitalized with Omicron infections, and 39 have died. (CIDRAP)
  • FDA issued an EUA for Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral molnupiravir, making it the second oral antiviral treatment available for COVID-19. It is authorized for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 for patients 18 and over, as it may affect bone and cartilage growth of those younger.
  • An early 3-day course of remdesivir lowered the risk for hospitalization or death among non-hospitalized patients at high risk for severe COVID-19 by 87%, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The treatment guidelines for COVID-19 from the Infectious Diseases Society of America suggesting remdesivir for certain hospitalized patients contradicts that from WHO, which does not recommend it for any patients hospitalized with COVID-19, regardless of how sick they are.


  • According to CDC, influenza activity is increasing, with the eastern and central parts of the country seeing the largest increases and the western part of the country reporting lower levels of influenza virus circulation. The majority has occurred in those aged 5-24; but the proportion of adults aged 25 years and older has been increasing. The percentage of outpatient visits due to respiratory illness is trending upwards and is above the national baseline, and hospitalizations are starting to increase; and the first two influenza-associated pediatric deaths this season were reported this week.