On August 4, 2022, the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency. This comes at a time where the number of cases in the United States are rapidly rising and with cases found in almost every state. This declaration primarily affects testing and vaccination. The government’s focus on vaccination has primarily been on health care workers treating monkeypox patients and men who have sex with men. The declaration follows the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration last month of monkeypox as a public health emergency of international concern.
The information affecting the workplace is still somewhat limited. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with monkeypox remain isolated at home or in another location for the duration of the illness, which typically can last two to four weeks.
It is still not known if monkeypox can be spread through respiratory secretions. Accordingly, a well-fitting mask and frequent handwashing are likely important preventive measures.
Monkeypox can spread to anyone through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact, including:
- via direct contact with monkeypox rash, scabs, or body fluids from a person with monkeypox;
- by touching objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding, or towels), and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox; and
- possibly through contact with respiratory secretions.
Employers may wish to educate their employees about monkeypox, including that employees with concerns should consult their physicians or health department, and may wish to inquire about testing and vaccination. Employers may also wish to consider how they will handle absences of up to one month, if remote work is not a possibility and/or when remote work is a possibility. Knowledge is often a way to avoid panic in the workplace and both the CDC and WHO have excellent fact sheets on their websites. State health agencies are likely to have them as well.
It may also be worthwhile to consider how to protect employees who are required to handle linens used by other people, people who are frequently in close contact with others for extended periods, or who come into close physical contact with others. For example, in its monkeypox congregate settings guidelines, the CDC recommends that personal protective equipment (PPE) be worn when cleaning the area where an individual with monkeypox has spent time.
The CDC also stated in its monkeypox congregate settings guidelines that “[e]mployers must comply with [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s] standards on Bloodborne Pathogens…, PPE…, Respiratory Protection…, and other requirements, including those established by state plans, whenever these requirements apply.”
Public health officials are emphasizing the fact that anyone can get monkeypox. The current outbreak is most prevalent among men having sex with other men, but can spread to anyone. Employers may want to stay attuned to any harassment or discrimination in the workplace resulting from misinformation about the disease.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to monkeypox and will post updates on the firm’s Workplace Safety and Health blog as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.