What to know about the Delta variant and the workplace

Employer Solutions | 2 months ago

What Employers Should Know About the COVID-19 Delta Variant

In the U.S., we’ve seen 3 predominant strains of COVID-19. Dr. Marc Johnson from Atrium Health shares more about the most recent Delta variant.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple variants of the virus have emerged. All viruses mutate (or change) over time, and COVID-19 is no exception. When a mutation changes how the virus behaves – for example, making it more contagious – the new version is known as a variant or strain.

While we originally saw the Wuhan strain in the United States, we have also seen the Alpha strain and are now experiencing an influx of Delta strain cases. To learn more about the recent Delta variant, we’ve invited Marc Johnson, MD, professor of medicine in the Department of Infectious Disease at Atrium Health, to share how this strain may affect your workforce.

The Delta Variant Appears to be More Contagious

According to Dr. Johnson, the COVID-19 Delta variant originated in India. Since spreading to the U.S., this strain is now present in all 50 states and accounts for around 80 to 85% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations to date.

“The Alpha variant was the predominant strain last year, which was 50% more infectious than the Wuhan strain. Now, Delta is proving to be around 50% more infectious than Alpha, so it is definitely something to be concerned about,” Dr. Johnson says. “In fact, because of the Delta variant, COVID-19 cases are no longer falling. Delta is rapidly spreading and appears to be more contagious and more severe than earlier versions of the virus.”

Studies show that the Delta variant causes a hospitalization rate two times higher than other strains of COVID-19. This suggests that Delta may be more pathogenic, or can more easily latch onto lung cells and cause more virus symptoms and damage than the previous Alpha strain.

While more research is needed to determine the efficacy of the approved COVID-19 vaccines against the Delta variant, current data suggests that breakthrough cases, or infections among people who are fully vaccinated, are possible but rare. Unvaccinated individuals remain most at risk. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 95% of nationwide COVID-19 deaths in June were in unvaccinated people.

“While individuals who have been vaccinated can still be infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19, most experience mild symptoms and do not have a severe reaction,” says Dr. Johnson. “However, unvaccinated populations and children under 12 should be most concerned with this new variant. Because of the high transmission of this variant, we expect to see erratic pockets of COVID-19 surges in areas where a large percentage of the population remains unvaccinated.”

What This Means for Employers

In response to the new Delta strain, employers may want to consider reinstituting COVID-safe measures in the office. These may include but are not limited to:

  • Social distancing guidelines
  • Proper handwashing techniques
  • Frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces
  • Enforced mask-wearing

Experts say that employers can expect to see transmission of the Delta variant among vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. However, vaccinated individuals will have a less severe reaction to the virus than others who haven’t received the COVID-19 vaccine. To be safe, you should avoid grouping vaccinated and unvaccinated employees when possible.

As COVID-19 vaccines help decrease virus spread in the workplace, you should strongly advise your employees to receive vaccinations. This will not only protect your team, but also reduce productivity losses due to employee sick leave associated with COVID-19. Some employers are offering creative incentives to encourage employee vaccination. Examples of this may include extra time off, bonuses and/or prizes.

To learn more about COVID-19 vaccines in the workplace or to schedule an on-site vaccination clinic, please email us at COVID19RTW@AtriumHealth.org.