Over the last several weeks, COVID cases have increased in New Jersey. After positive trends through the summer, more than 1,000 new cases are being recorded a day and more than 800 patients daily are being treated for COVID-19 at hospitals in the state.
Every county is now experiencing additional cases, with what state health officials are calling a second wave, with the most concerning counties are Essex, Union, Hudson, Bergen and Ocean.
Lab-confirmed COVID-19 deaths remained at elevated levels, and the positivity rate for tests was up above 5%, double the rate seen during the summer.
The Employers Association of New Jersey, who has been supporting employer-members throughout the pandemic, has experienced an uptick in its COVID-19 calls.
“Nothing alarming like March and April but we’re a little concerned that COVID fatigue might be leading to some preventable cases,” says John Sarno, president of the association.
Sarno says that calls are coming in asking what to do when employees and their family members test positive.
“First, it’s great that the employee has disclosed. That means there is a real partnership between the employee and employer to get it right. Trust is now a primary business asset to avoid disruption,” he says.
In this situation, the employer are should take all reasonable precautions which could include isolation of the employee for two weeks, which they can work from home or take sick pay or other PTO. A negative test could be a condition of return.
Sarno, who serves on three COVID-related committees that get regular briefings from medical experts, also advises that the employer request that the employee and spouse cooperate with New Jersey’s contact tracing initiative.
Contact tracing is the process used to identify those who come into contact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19. Contact tracing is typically triggered after a positive COVID-19 test. Contact tracers are trained professionals from the community who get in touch with a person’s “Close Contacts,” including co-workers, to recommend next steps like self-quarantining.
The Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidance defining Close Contact of a Covid-19 case to a person who has been within six feet of an infected person for a total of at least 15 minutes in a day. That includes multiple, but brief, encounters, one or two minutes at a time.
The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) recommends employers take the following steps:
• Inform employees of the importance of contact tracing,
• Inform employees of the available resources for support, including employment protection, and
• Work with the NJDOH to share information and support contact tracing.
The NJDOH has also launched COVID Alert NJ, a free and secure mobile app that anonymously alerts users if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. More here: https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/app
“Employers are encouraged to get employees to download the app” says Sarno.
Toolkit here: https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/apptoolkit