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Agencies have a new deadline to ease some of their screening testing restrictions and COVID-19 protocols.
As soon as possible, but no later than Aug. 22, agencies must stop certain screening testing programs that differentiate based on a visitor’s vaccination status, the Safer Federal Workforce task force said in updated guidance on Aug. 11.
Agencies can still continue to conduct any screening testing that’s consistent regardless of an individual’s vaccination status. But agencies should wait for more guidance from the task force before revising or adding any screening programs.
An email from the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) council, obtained by Federal News Network on Aug. 16, confirmed the task force’s updated guidance. You can read the full message here. The task force updated its official website on Aug. 17. The Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Federal News Network.
The easing of screening guidance for agencies came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) loosened its own guidelines for the U.S.’s COVID-19 response.
“Compared to earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, today the nation is in a stronger place with more tools — like vaccination, boosters, and treatments — that can protect us from severe illness from COVID-19. Staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, including recommended booster doses, remains the best way to significantly lower the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” the email said.
Also included in the update, the task force said agencies should pause on asking employees, contractors, visitors and in-person event attendees to share their vaccination status. Agencies shouldn’t ask about an individual’s vaccination status, regardless of COVID-19 community levels — specifically for areas where safety protocols don’t vary based on vaccination status.
Agencies should also stop using the governmentwide certification of vaccination form, the email said. But, the task force said agencies should still maintain their records, in case they need to resume the procedures in the future.
The task force also removed a requirement regarding interactions for individuals who are not fully vaccinated and who have been exposed to COVID-19. Those individuals are no longer barred for five days from entering federal facilities or interacting in person with members of the public. Instead, the task force said agencies should follow the same procedures they use for individuals who are fully vaccinated.
Additionally, the task force reminded agencies to work with their unions early on, as they adjust their COVID-19 workplace safety plans, protocols and policies. Agencies should also review existing collective bargaining agreements to determine if the task force’s updates conflict with any existing provisions.
Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the new guidance from the task force is a welcome change, particularly the update easing the screening testing programs.
“It has been clear that the screening testing of unvaccinated employees does little to protect the federal workforce when vaccinated and boosted individuals can spread the virus as well,” Reardon said in a statement. “We must constantly reassess the actions being taken to keep federal employees safe and on the job. This screening testing program reflected circumstances that were no longer applicable to the current environment.”
Instead of continuing the programs, Reardon said agencies’ resources would be better used in other areas, including providing high-quality masks to employees, prioritizing efforts to improve ventilation systems, continuing enhanced cleaning of workspaces and maximizing telework where possible.
The last update to the task force’s guidance came out in early June, with significant changes to travel and leave policies and guidance for federal employees. You can learn more about those other recent changes here.