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Where We Stand with COVID-19 Entering 2021

A year after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the U.S., over 300,000 Americans and 13,000 Canadians have died from the disease and there have been more than 16 million confirmed infections in the U.S. and over 400,000 total cases in Canada.

LIUNA General
and LHSFNA Labor
Armand E. Sabitoni

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all on the rise. Businesses we’ve come to count on are struggling or have been forced to close. Our collective mental health is suffering and pandemic fatigue – both from hearing about the virus and the cost-benefit analysis required to do anything outside the house – is very real.

On the positive side, the FDA granted emergency approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend the vaccine for people 16 and older. The development of multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is providing a welcome light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. However, health experts have warned that widespread vaccination will not be seen throughout the U.S. until mid to late 2021.

“As COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out, we must continue practicing physical distancing, wearing face coverings and following the handwashing practices and other safety measures that have been recommended for months,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “These practices are especially important right now as community spread remains extremely high and our health care system is under immense strain.”

A recent CDC report identified several public health and infection control measures to address high levels of community transmission. Some of these strategies can be addressed through individual behavior, some can be addressed by employers and others can be addressed through partnerships at the local, state and federal levels.

  1. Universal use of facial coverings
    1. What can workers do? Abide by all policies and recommendations while at work. Wear a facial covering anytime you’re not in your own home with members of your household, whether it’s mandated by your state or not.
    2. What can employers do? Mandate that facial coverings be worn on your jobsite at all times. Reference the Fund’s Cloth Face Coverings toolbox talk, also available in Spanish.
  2. Physical distancing and limiting contacts
    1. What can workers do? Practice physical and social distancing. Be mindful of the number of people outside your household you’re spending time with. Talk to people you spend time with to determine how large their bubble is, particularly if you live with them.
    2. What can employers do? Implement and enforce a social distancing protocol. Refer to the Fund’s sample policy and customizable PDF.
  3. Avoid non-essential indoor spaces and crowded outdoor settings
    1. What can workers do? Adhere to all jobsite protocols. Limit the frequency and duration of time spent indoors or in crowded public spaces (especially bars and restaurants, which contact tracing is showing drives community spread). Consider home delivery of essential items.
    2. What can employers do? Arrange work spaces and tasks to limit the number of people involved at any given time, without sacrificing safety measures.
  4. Prompt case investigation and contact tracing to identify, quarantine and test close contacts
    1. What can workers do? Following the guidance of local public health officials.
    2. What can employers do? Familiarize yourself with the Fund’s COVID-19 Contact Tracing guidance document and work with local public health officials.
  5. Safeguarding people most at risk for severe illness or death
    1. What can workers do? Find out if you or a loved one are at high risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19 and follow the recommended actions.
    2. What can employers do? Protect workers who are part of high-risk groups.
  6. Protecting essential workers
    1. What can workers do? Follow the three Ws on the job and off: Wash your hands, Wear a face covering, Watch your distance.
    2. What can employers do? Refer to the Responding to COVID-19 in Construction guidance document and take it a step further to implement a COVID-19 Worksite Safety & Health Program. Use the COVID-19: Symptoms and Risk Reduction toolbox talk.
  7. Postponing travel
    1. What can workers do? Strongly consider halting all non-essential personal travel. If you will travel, take into account the COVID-19 circumstances where you currently live, your destination and your method of travel.
    2. What can employers do? Continue banning non-essential business travel until further notice. Continue using technological alternatives to in-person meetings.
  8. Increased room air ventilation, enhanced hand hygiene and cleaning and disinfection
    1. What can workers do? Practice hand hygiene, as outlined in the Handwashing During COVID-19 toolbox talk.
    2. What can employers do? Equip your jobsite with hand sanitizing stations. Utilize the Fund’s guidance document for assistance.

Think of these measures as an “all of the above” approach and not a “one and done” situation. As we emerge from the solitude of this holiday season, there’s optimism that we’ll be back to greeting our loved ones with a warm embrace as we ring in the end of 2021. In the meantime, the Fund will continue providing you with the most current recommendations to help protect the health, safety and well-being of LIUNA members, their families, their jobs and their communities.

[Emily Smith is the LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Manager.]

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