A The regional return to some degree of normalcy before the pandemic was the focus of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council’s webinar “Employer’s Guide to Covid-19 Vaccines and Returning to Work” on May 17th.
Dr. Greg Buller, chairman of the medical department at Bridgeport Hospital, said the vaccines administered were “all incredibly safe” and that the risk of being struck by lightning was higher than a severe reaction to the vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he added, has been suspended “because of a relatively novel side effect that is very, very, very unusual and, to my knowledge, has not yet been described in the state of Connecticut.”
Dr. Jurate Ivanaviciene, an infectious disease specialist at Hartford HealthCare’s St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport, said people who have been vaccinated do not need to remain in quarantine. However, for those who have not yet been vaccinated and believe they may have been exposed to someone who had Covid, she recommended playing it safe.
“They should be tested and you should quarantine,” she said. “I would say day five after your exposure and in the future if your result is negative and you are asymptomatic, you can return to work. You should continue to monitor your symptoms even if you have this negative result. “
Ivanaviciene reported that unvaccinated people exposed to a Covid positive person usually develop symptoms between four and 14 days, adding that some people are known to continue to have symptoms after 20 days.
However, once an entire workplace has been vaccinated, Ivanaviciene continues, there is no need to continue wearing face masks – but this does require that everyone in the workplace is honest about their vaccination status.
“The hard part is when you don’t know if everyone is vaccinated,” she said. “Is it possible for someone in the office to be asymptomatic who doesn’t wear a mask and increases the possibility of spread? That is always the possibility. “
Ebony Jackson-Shaheed, epidemiologist and acting health director for Bridgeport, said the city does not distribute vaccines to vendors but rather relies on state government for its vaccination services. The challenge for the city is to make the availability and safety of the vaccines known.
“We have signs literally everywhere,” she said. “Many people who come to the clinics to get vaccinated say that they learned about the vaccine through many of our signs.”
Jackson-Shaheed noted that the city has also used Spanish language broadcasters and television channels with local access to publicize the availability of vaccinations. In order to do justice to the residents who cannot travel to the clinics, mobile clinics have gone door to door in parts of the city where the lack of transport is particularly acute.
“Even for those who don’t have documentation, we’ll take them as walk-ins,” she said. “If they don’t have ID, they sign a certificate stating that they are who they are and then they go ahead and get vaccinated.”
Ramon Peralta, CEO of Peralta Design in Shelton, told the webinar that seven members of his 10-person company were in the office and the other three are still working remotely. The company installed sheets of plexiglass to separate work areas and continues to require face masks in the public areas of the office.
“I said, ‘Hey guys, we can have staff meetings and if you are vaccinated you don’t have to wear a mask,'” he said. “But we have a mix – we’re probably 70% vaccinated.”
Peralta admitted asking guest customers if they were vaccinated before they entered, and to date all customers have already received their vaccines.
“A lot of it is optics,” he said. “If there was no one around, I would probably be comfortable with someone walking in without a mask. But as the owner and manager, I have to be aware that everyone should feel safe at work. “
Gary Phelan, attorney at the Mitchell & Sheahan law firm, told the webinar audience that employers can require employees to receive vaccines with several key exceptions.
“The first is when a person with a disability who for some reason is unable to get the vaccine,” he said. “Then you focus on the person and how you can take them in. The second exception concerns people who have sincere religious beliefs and therefore will not receive the vaccine. Here, too, the question arises whether there is accommodation and whether this would lead to undue hardship.
“The third limitation,” he continued, “concerns unionized jobs” – something that is subject to collective bargaining.
Phelan warned that employers cannot dictate that certain workers must be vaccinated and that others can take a passport.
“For example,” he explained, “if an employer says” older workers are at greater risk and should be given the vaccine, “it would be age discrimination.”
Phelan noted that the federal agency for occupational safety and health recently issued guidance that “Workplaces should not distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. So this is the guide that we have to respect in relation to the workplace. “