In recent days, businesses woke up to some very promising news: Not one, but two vaccines shared data to support better-than-expected effectiveness rates. News stories say that the vaccine could be available in a matter of weeks. It’s the ray of light that we’ve all been waiting for.
But what does it mean for businesses? Is it time to put the pandemic in the rearview and shift focus back to business as usual? Unfortunately, no. The vaccine isn’t here yet, but the resurgence is. And any business that lets its guard down now will be more vulnerable than ever to legal risk.
Here’s why a vaccine doesn’t mean that businesses are off the hook:
Don’t Expect a Quick Fix
In reality, a vaccine isn’t going to be available next week, and likely not even next quarter. Or the one after that. While the promise of an effective vaccine offers hope, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that it would likely be a matter of months before it can be widely distributed.
“If a substantial proportion of the population takes the vaccine,” he says, “I think we will be going in the right direction of some degree of normality as we head into 2021 in the second, third and fourth quarter.” Of course, there’s one very big “if” in that statement.
A significant portion of the public has a general wariness about a new and unproven vaccine. The myriad unknowns about the vaccine will slow down both its availability and adoption. After a year of uncertainty and mixed messages about everything from the virus to the presidential election, the global trust index in the U.S. might be at an all-time low. Of course no one can be forced to take a vaccine, so it’s wise to expect a significant adoption curve across the country.
Covid-19 is Spreading at Record Levels
The United States seems to be reaching one new milestone after another when it comes to the accelerated spread of the virus. The resurgence has caused an alarming spike in diagnoses, hospitalizations and deaths across the country. And while government action is desperately needed to curb the spread, there’s gridlock in Washington thanks to an unprecedented challenge to the transfer of power.
“This deepening crisis requires immediate, thoughtful, informed, evidence-based and decisive attention by the President and his advisers,” says Dr. Kent Sepkowitz. “Otherwise, the pandemic will worsen, the economy will worsen and the morale of the American people will worsen.”
Meanwhile, the virus numbers continue to get worse as the power struggle over the presidency stalls progress to fight back the latest outbreak. The responsibility lies with each individual business, which brings us back to Duty of Care. That responsibility doesn’t just go away with the promise of a vaccine. In fact, it’s arguably more important than ever.
Take, for example, the Tyson Foods lawsuit that recently emerged. According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, the company kept its plant open under the direction of President Donald Trump, who declared meatpacking plants “essential” in late April. However, they did not put effective safety protocols in place and they pressured workers into unsafe situations. More than 1,000 became ill, five later died and they are now facing four wrongful death lawsuits. The president’s opinion will not protect them when these facts are presented in court.
Financial Resources to Lean On
Businesses across the board have taken a huge hit this year, and no one can blame them for hoping that the vaccine will ease the time, money and resources spent adjusting operations in the wake of the virus. But not only is it too soon to table the emphasis on health and safety, this need will remain long after the coronavirus is a thing of the past. It’s not the first pandemic the world has faced, and it’s highly unlikely to be the last.
But financial help is out there for businesses who are committed to maintaining an ecosystem of care. Numerous grants and funding resources are available at both the state and federal level to use for preventing and responding to COVID-19. And with the democratic leadership taking over in D.C., there are likely to be more resources for businesses on the horizon.
Current resources include federal aid that was made available through the Coronavirus Relief Fund within the CARES Act. State and local leaders who sat on this funding amidst a lack of clarity about the virus and the impact on tax receipts and government spend have until December 30, 2020 to use what they have on hand.
Get more information on finding funding for Safe Space solutions quickly here.
There is No Silver Bullet
Unfortunately, no vaccine will be able to offer one-and-done protection. Both of the leading vaccine candidates will need to be taken in two doses to be effective. And like the flu, coronavirus migrates and shifts. That means it’s highly likely that individuals will have to get an annual vaccine to protect themselves, much like a flu shot.
The very real promise of a vaccine is quite possibly the best news of the year. Still, it doesn’t mean that businesses are off the hook. What a business does now matters — to their customers, to their employees and to public perception. Health perception matters, and trust has never been more important.
The only real way for a business to protect itself from risk is to care more about the “what ifs” than the “what now.” Sitting back and waiting for a vaccine to be widely available — and adopted — is simply not worth the risk. There’s an enormous gray area of liability, and it’s a much wider trench than many businesses realize.
InReality’s Learning Center is committed to sharing important guidance to help the industry navigate the complexities of the ever-evolving Safe Space landscape. The information shared is informed by experience working with many constituents and stakeholders. If you have a topic you would like addressed, please submit it to Laura Davis-Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.
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