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When to bring back employees? Health, legal experts weigh in

"It’s very important that people not let their guard down too quickly"
Credit: SLBJ

ST. LOUIS — In addition to gauging employee interest in returning, there remain health and legal issues to consider before reopening the office to a full workforce.

Dr. Clairborne Dunagan, BJC HealthCare’s senior vice president and chief clinical officer, said he’ll be watching how virus variants affect cases and hospitalizations in the next four to six weeks. 

"There is reason to be optimistic, but these are not extremely low rates," said Dunagan, a member of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. “It’s very important that people not let their guard down too quickly.”

Dunagan said at the current vaccination rate, it would take until July to give shots to the entire “at-risk population,” defined as people more than 50 years of age or who have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes. Still, that rate is likely to increase as more vaccine supply becomes available, he said. When most of those people are vaccinated “then it becomes less critical to have complete disappearance of the virus before you start backing off” restrictions and bringing more people back to offices, Dunagan said. 

It could take until about 75% of the population — or more — is vaccinated before the public can stop wearing masks and cease worry about transmission, he said.

Travis Kearbey, who leads the 40-lawyer employment and labor practice at Armstrong Teasdale, has been counseling business clients on re-opening. The topic is legally complex, touching on so many various areas of legal expertise that Kearbey said his firm is taking a team approach to addressing it, with lawyers from several specialities weighing in.

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