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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Companies are focusing on health security for returning workforces.

Why it matters: It's becoming clear that the novel coronavirus will be with us in some form for months or even years, which means companies need to invest in tools that can manage the biological safety of their workplaces.

What's happening: With COVID-19 cases declining and the pace of vaccinations rising, it's reasonable to expect that more workers will return to offices in the months ahead.

  • But a return to normalcy is a long way off, and may never fully arrive — the Wall Street Journal reported this week that many companies are pushing return dates to September or beyond.

Be smart: Whenever workers return in some fashion to the office, they'll likely be greeted by systems designed to manage crowding and facilitate contact tracing in an effort to stem any potential outbreaks.

  • More than 70 companies are now using the consulting firm PwC's Check-In, a smartphone-based system to screen workers for symptoms before they come to the office, as well as automated contact tracing that can determine who might have been in close contact with any infected workers.
  • Kloudspot, a location intelligence company, has developed a Reopening Readiness Assessment Tool that helps businesses and schools determine when they're ready to reopen in some form, as well as offering a system that can trigger alerts in the case of PPE violations or overcapacity.

What they're saying: "People are beginning to look at contact tracing and all the other stuff we've been through as something that is just going to be part of work life going forward," says David Sapin, PwC Digital's chief revenue and risk officer.

What's next: Hybrid work systems — with people rotating from remote to the workplace on different days — will present new office challenges.

  • "What happens if more people than you expect in a given day show up at the office?" says Guillermo Diaz Jr., Kloudspot's CEO. "You need the analytics and tools to be able to manage that."

The bottom line: Just as 9/11 put a premium on the physical security of workplaces for years after the event, COVID-19 ensures that health security will be a part of office life for the foreseeable future.

Go deeper

Feb 17, 2021 - Health

Testing and tracing "win" sees New Zealand city lockdown end despite COVID cases

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrives at a news conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, New Zealand, on Wednesday. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Wednesday Auckland's snap lockdown will end at midnight.

Why it matters: Officials confirmed two new COVID-19 community cases Wednesday. Ardern told reporters test results show "we don't have a widespread outbreak, but rather a small chain of transmission," centering around an Auckland high school, "which is manageable."

Feb 17, 2021 - Health

Poll: Teachers who are back in the classroom are comfortable with it

Data: AFT Members School Reopening Survey; Chart: Axios Visuals

Most teachers and school staff who are back in the classroom feel comfortable with the return to in-person classes, according to recent polling from the American Federation of Teachers.

Why it matters: Teachers who are still fully remote said they weren't comfortable with the idea of a return to the classroom — but the teachers who have returned seem to think it's gone just fine.

Updated Feb 17, 2021 - Health

Winter storm causes "widespread delays" of COVID vaccine shipments

Chicago residents dig out their car after a snowstorm coupled with lake-effect snow dumped more than 17 inches of snow in some areas of the city. Photo: Scott Olson via Getty Images

The winter storm sweeping across Texas and much of the U.S. has posed new obstacles to coronavirus vaccination efforts.

Driving the news: Hazardous weather has slowed deliveries from two central distribution hubs for the Southeast. The U.S. government is projecting "widespread delays" in vaccine shipments in the next few days, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokesperson told the Washington Post.