August 26, 2021 / Kay Bechtold

The Monthly Weekly: The Evolving Pandemic

Editor’s note: The Monthly Weekly is an occasional feature that reviews the previous month’s news coverage from The Synergist Weekly newsletter. (Are you an AIHA member who is not receiving The Synergist Weekly? Review your email preferences to make sure you’re opted in.)

Nearly one month ago, CDC updated its COVID-19 guidance to recommend that everyone in areas of substantial or high community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 wear face coverings in public indoor spaces. The new guidance reversed the agency’s guidance from May, which said that vaccinated people did not need to wear face coverings. The updated recommendations are intended to help prevent the spread of the delta variant, which is now the predominant strain of the virus in the United States. As of Aug. 25, all but one of the 50 states—Maine—are experiencing high community transmission, which CDC describes as areas where, over the preceding seven days, new cases of COVID-19 meet or exceed 100 per 100,000 population or positive nucleic acid amplification tests for SARS-CoV-2 meet or exceed 10 percent.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, so too does the guidance and research of federal agencies and allied organizations. Below are some recent updates from agencies of interest to industrial hygienists and occupational and environmental health and safety professionals.

Updated OSHA guidance. On Aug. 13, OSHA published updated guidance intended to help employers protect unvaccinated and other at-risk workers from the coronavirus. Similar to CDC’s updated recommendations, OSHA’s latest guidance recommends that fully vaccinated workers in areas of substantial or high community transmission wear masks to protect unvaccinated workers. In addition, the guidance further describes measures for protecting those in higher-risk workplaces where workers have prolonged close contact with others and where workers’ vaccination status varies.

Workplace testing for COVID-19. A national, anonymous survey being conducted by NIOSH is intended to identify barriers to and facilitators of COVID-19 testing in U.S. workplaces. Employers are encouraged to participate in the survey, which will be open until Sept. 15. According to NIOSH, the data collected will be used to identify approaches and strategies that all employers can use to implement COVID-19 testing.

The future of worker health and safety. On Sept. 8, AIHA President John Mulhausen and CEO Larry Sloan will join representatives from other professional associations for a new NIOSH webinar on topics related to the future of worker health and safety in the post-pandemic world. The free webinar is part of the agency’s 2021 Expanding Research Partnerships Webinar Series.

Contact tracing and ventilation. NIOSH recently highlighted two research projects being conducted by its mining program that are aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19. One project is focused on using mobile tools for contact tracing, and the other is exploring targeted ventilation. Although these projects are being conducted by the NIOSH Mining Program, the anticipated findings may be relevant to workers in food manufacturing and processing, grocery stores, and long-term care facilities as well as those who work as cashiers in various industries.

Respiratory protection for pesticide handlers. EPA has terminated its temporary guidance on respiratory protection for agricultural pesticide handlers during COVID-19, effective Aug. 19. The agency cites improvements in access to NIOSH-approved respirators, fit-testing supplies, and related services as the basis for its decision.

As industrial hygienists continue working to address the COVID-19 public health crisis, Synergist staff remain committed to sharing practical knowledge, guidance, and perspectives from industrial hygiene leaders and respected authorities. Check the latest Synergist coverage of the ongoing pandemic at any time using our COVID-19 News Center.

And as always, please share feedback on our news coverage in the comments or send an email to The Synergist.

Kay Bechtold

Kay Bechtold is the managing editor of The Synergist.


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