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Three months after President Biden officially declared an end to the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans have shown little interest in returning to the days of frequent masking, testing and social distancing. Yet for people with chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases who require remote work, the danger of covid hasn’t disappeared.

In August, the Centers for Disease Control announced a new variant of the disease that has already killed over 1 million Americans since 2020.

“A new variant of SARS-CoV-2 called BA.2.86 was detected in samples from people in Denmark and Israel. At least two cases have been identified in the United States. This variant is notable because it has multiple genetic differences from previous versions of SARS-CoV-2,” the CDC reported in mid-August.

The number of hospitalizations have increased by 24% over the last two weeks, according to a New York Times tracker using CDC data. Yet the number of deaths is no where near the record-setting months during 2021, when as many as 4,000+ people were dying in a single day.

Still, for people who are more susceptible to the disease, such as the elderly, overweight and immunocompromised individuals, the idea of switching back from remote work to in-person work represents a scary dilemma.

Covid comeback raises fears of in-person work for vulnerable Americans

One of the latest variants, EG.5, has become the dominant form of covid in the U.S. The World Health Organization has rated the global risk from this variant as low.

Based on the available evidence, the public health risk posed by EG.5 is evaluated as low at the global level,” WHO stated on August 9. “While EG.5 has shown increased prevalence, growth advantage, and immune escape properties, there have been no reported changes in disease severity to date.”

Last year, at least five public schools in Tulsa went virtual due to the spread of covid. As a new school year begins, with thousands of kids and teachers returning to the classroom, the risk of spread may increase as well.

For those with less adaptable immune systems or chronic illnesses, the desire to remain as a remote worker may be profound. While many employers have already forced workers back to the office, the U.S. government does offer guidance for employees seeking to negotiate their work location to protect their health.

Options for remote work

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees or applicants for employment as long as it doesn’t cause an oversized burden on the employer.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published guidance on the issue that allow immunocompromised employees to request remote status over concerns about how the new covid variants will impact their health.

If a reasonable accommodation is needed and requested by an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform a job, or enjoy benefits and privileges of employment, the employer must provide it unless it would pose an undue hardship, meaning significant difficulty or expense. An employer has the discretion to choose among effective accommodations. Where a requested accommodation would result in undue hardship, the employer must offer an alternative accommodation if one is available absent undue hardship.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

To learn more about your rights as an employee or employer regarding covid and remote working, visit the EEOC website.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...

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