As the Delta variant causes a surge in new infections and hospitalizations, the public and private sectors are scrambling to keep up with rapidly shifting recommendations on how to deal with the highly transmissible fourth wave of Covid-19.
Coconino County and the City of Flagstaff both reinstated requirements for masks while in City or County buildings, regardless of vaccination status. Yesterday, Northern Arizona University announced that masks will be required in classrooms and labs. Meanwhile, the Flagstaff Unified School District is requiring masks until at least September 29, in spite of current state law forbidding mask mandates in K-12 schools. (Requirements are evolving all the time; check an institution’s website for the latest information on their mask protocols.)
Leading the way in the response to the Delta variant, however, has been the business community. Large companies like Ford Motors, Walmart, United Airlines, and Target have recently enacted mask and/or vaccine requirements for workers. Some are also trying to coax vaccine hesitant workers to get their shots with cash bonuses.
But what are smaller businesses to do in this current environment? To get the answer to that, I reached out to Dave Engelthaler, Director and Associate Professor of the Pathogen Genomics Division at TGen North. During this crisis, he has overseen the rapid development of TGen’s Covid-19 diagnostic test, the creation of a federally-licensed laboratory to support Arizona’s public health and healthcare response to the disease, and the establishment of Arizona’s COVID genomic sequencing and variant tracking capacity.
First of all, he noted that almost all cases of Covid-19 for the time being will be from the Delta variant and that means they will be highly contagious, including in the work environment.
“Everyone also needs to know that the only true protective measure is immunization,” he added. “It will prevent infection in most cases and prevent serious illness or death in nearly all cases – except in the immunosuppressed.”
Even employees who have had Covid previously should get at least one vaccine dose, Engelthaler said, which should boost them up to full immunity.
Lastly, he recommended that unvaccinated employees and patrons should mask up in the work space, even though this is a “less than perfect preventative measure.” Employers should implement or enforce a policy of having workers stay at home if they have a cold or are exhibiting Covid symptoms.
Our partners at Northern Arizona Healthcare are taking that last piece of advice one step further and encouraging everyone to wear a mask when around others regardless of vaccine status. They also stressed the importance of getting the vaccine and urged those who still need their shot to visit the County website or call (928) 679-7300 for vaccine clinic locations.
When it was announced that the County would be reinstating its mask requirement for its buildings, County Health and Human Services Director Kim Musselman noted that we are in a race against time because vaccinations not only protect us now, they also stop other variants from developing in the future.
As she so succinctly put it: “Vaccination is the path out of this pandemic, and is the best way to protect you, your family and your community.”