Now that a significant portion of the US population is receiving COVID vaccinations, along with the onset of warmer weather, more and more people are venturing out to visit restaurants. This prompted the Covington Business Council to ask Dr. Lynne Saddler, Northern Kentucky Health District Director of Health about the appropriateness of returning to the office and resuming a somewhat of a normal business schedule.
CBC: Is it prudent/advisable to begin scheduling individual meetings, in an office or a business lunch? If yes, what precautions should be taken?
DR. SADDLER: It’s a bit premature to move forward with these kinds of activities for now. At this time, businesses should continue following the existing guidance related to office buildings and employee or client interactions. Virtual meetings are still the safest way to meet at this time.
However, as more people get vaccinated and COVID-19 rates continue to decline, being able to have one-on-one business lunches in restaurants following proper protocols will become safer. Both the CDC and the Governor have said that there will be some loosening of restrictions as we move forward through this phase of the pandemic.
CBC: What about gatherings of medium sized groups, 15-20? If yes, what precautions?
DR. SADDLER: Inside gatherings of groups in the business setting is still not recommended. Outside gatherings following COVID-19 precautions can take place more safely than inside gatherings.
All interactions should follow the Healthy at Work guidance as found on the state’s COVID webpage, kycovid19.ky.gov This includes following guidance on wearing masks, social distancing, occupancy capacity, interactions with clients or the public, etc.
CBC: Once someone has been fully vaccinated, what advice would you give a business person about resuming a normal or reduced office schedule?
DR. SADDLER: At this point in time, the current state guidance is that fully vaccinated individuals need to continue the protective measures of wearing masks, social distancing, and washing hands. For now. Recent updates provided by the Governor allow for up to 60% of normal employee occupancy of office buildings, provided all other requirements can be maintained (separation distance, masks, etc.). It is expected that in the future these restrictions will be eased as most or all staff become fully vaccinated.
CBC: Compare some of the office protocol health officials called for a year ago to now.
DR. SADDLER: It’s important to know that while many of the requirements and recommendations are still in place, we are starting to see some loosening of restrictions based on declining COVID-19 cases and increasing vaccinations.
As these trends in cases and vaccinations continue over the coming months, we should see further changes in the guidance for offices and businesses. We are headed in the right direction and it’s important to proceed prudently.
CBC: Given the current landscape of easing restrictions, can you hazard a guess or provide a range of months before larger scale business events (100 or more attending)?
DR. SADDLER: Currently available information on vaccine doses indicates that there will be more vaccination opportunities over the next three months. In Northern Kentucky, we are seeing an increasing number of vaccination providers and sites giving shots each week. However, with our current demand for vaccinations, it may take into the early summer for everyone who wants the shots to get fully vaccinated. As more people become vaccinated and COVID-19 cases continue to decline, we should expect to see the state’s guidance change in response to these trends.
We could very well see incremental loosening of restrictions in various sectors as summer approaches. Getting this virus under control determines the timetable, so people should get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible and able, and continue following the existing precautions in the meantime. We are getting there, so let’s all stay determined and vigilant.