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Mask up again, in areas where COVID cases are climbing, the CDC says

Pressure mounts for employers to help boost vaccine coverage by requiring innoculation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday revised its guidance calling on fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors in areas where the Delta variant is gaining ground.

The moves comes as restaurant policies to require proof of vaccination — for both workers and guests — are on the rise.

Currently, just under half of Americans have been fully inoculated, but the CDC said vaccination remains the most effective means to control the pandemic. Full vaccination saves lives, prevents illness and reduces the spread of the virus, the CDC said.

Death rates have dropped dramatically as vaccination rates rose in recent months. But between June 19 and July 23, COVID cases increased about 300% across the country, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.

New data indicates that even the vaccinated can transmit the coronavirus, and health officials are worried that the continued spread of COVID will allow mutations that could evade vaccine protections to emerge.

As a result, in communities where COVID case counts are spiking again, the CDC now recommends that everyone wear face masks indoors, even those who are vaccinated — at least until “vaccination coverage is high and community transmission is low,” the CDC said. Earlier this year, the CDC advised that only the unvaccinated needed to wear masks indoors.

How to increase slowing vaccination rates, however, remains a challenge.

Some see the workplace as an opportunity to boost vaccine rates. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, last month offered guidance for employers thinking about vaccine mandates.

Some health officials say the unvaccinated pose a risk, particularly in the workplace.

Last week, health officials throughout the Bay Area, including Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties, “strongly urged” employers to consider requiring that their workforce get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

“Workers who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 pose a substantial health and financial risk to the workplace,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County’s health officer. “Most importantly, workplace exposures have led to serious illnesses and deaths.”

In California, where about 75% of eligible residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, employers must require and enforce mask wearing. Employers are also encouraged to require frequent COVID tests for unvaccinated employees.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said all state employees and healthcare workers must show proof of vaccination or get tested regularly, starting in August.

The CDC, however, stops short of employer mandates, saying organizations should establish “supportive policies,” such as giving workers time off or paid leave to get vaccinated, as well as offering flexible, nonpunitive sick leave options.

But a growing number of restaurants are moving toward requiring proof of vaccination.

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Restaurant Association surveyed its members on Monday about requiring workers to be vaccinated, saying recommendations would be forthcoming — though participation would be optional.

The San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance on Monday recommended that local bars require proof of vaccination before allowing guests inside, or show a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours. Some restaurants and bars had already started screening guests, and the San Francisco Chronicle has posted a running list.

In New York City, vaccines are now required for municipal and healthcare workers. The Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to mandate the vaccine for healthcare workers.

And nearly 60 healthcare organizations have called on employers to mandate the vaccine, and not just in healthcare settings.

In a letter to Congress on Monday initiated by the American Medical Association, the organizations wrote, “As the healthcare community leads the way in requiring vaccines for our employees, we hope all other employers across the country will follow our lead and implement effective policies to encourage vaccination. The health and safety of U.S. workers, families, communities and the nation depends on it.”

Some fear that vaccine mandates will prompt backlash.

In Huntington Beach, Calif., for example, the restaurant Basilico’s Pasta E Vino on Monday posted a sign saying “proof of being unvaccinated is required,” adding, “We have zero-tolerance for treasonous, anti-American stupidity.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@informa.com

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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