Reopening Ahead of a Fourth Wave of COVID-19

Jul 30, 2021

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July 30, 2021

About Social Work Responds

The Association of Social Work Boards, the Council on Social Work Education, and the National Association of Social Workers are committed to collaborating on the range of issues affecting the social work profession and the people and communities we serve. In 2021, Social Work Responds will be issued quarterly.


The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the University of Texas at Austin’s Health Behavior Research and Training Institute have been awarded a $3.5 million grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to engage social workers in boosting COVID-19 vaccine confidence and uptake, including in communities of color and among vulnerable populations. This comprehensive initiative will include a social work-informed communications campaign as well as in-person and virtual trainings for social workers. Trainings are aimed at equipping social workers with information and skills (such as motivational interviewing and screening and brief intervention and referral) for working with clients to address and overcome vaccine hesitancy. HBRT will collaborate with Michigan State University to develop a smart phone mobile application for social workers and with NORC at the University of Chicago to assist in developing messaging and in evaluation efforts. Stay tuned for more details!

Reopening Ahead of a Fourth Wave

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, with cases surging due to the Delta variant in a population that has not yet reached herd immunity (which according to the CDC will be achieved when 80% of the population is fully vaccinated). Many are wondering: What will the fall look like? Social workers are pondering a related question: What will practice look like? Educators are wondering: What will our learning environment look like? Regulators are asking: How will the regulatory landscape change? Although we celebrate the availability of multiple safe and highly effective vaccines, we recognize that “reopening” our society, and ongoing recovery, will take a different form than we may have anticipated.

Many of the public conversations center around reopening; however, as an essential workforce, social workers never really stopped working. Seemingly overnight, we reinvented our care models and classrooms and adapted to wholly virtual models, and our clients and students adapted with us. One of the unique facets of this crisis that is easily overlooked is that we, too, were impacted. As helping professionals, we continued to deliver services in the context of a social safety net that was also in crisis. Major investments by the federal government such as the American Rescue Plan will go a long way toward restoring that safety net.

Evolving in tandem with the public health crisis is a deepening mental health crisis that has been dubbed COVID’s “fourth wave. Lisa Carlson, the immediate past president of the American Public Health Association has aptly pointed out, “We don’t have a vaccine for our mental health like we do for our physical health” (Rogers, 2021).  Students reported more mental health challenges last year compared to previous years, according to CSWE research, and more than half of educators reported that colleagues dealt with more mental health challenges.

Whether in person or virtually, addressing the fourth wave will be front and center for many of us, whether we practice in schools, programs, health care facilities, child welfare settings, or private practice. CSWE and NASW stand ready to support social workers, students, and educators as they bring their valuable expertise to bear in meeting the challenges of this moment.

Regardless of delivery methods or location, social work practice is regulated and social workers must follow the regulations of the state. As governors issued emergency orders (EOs) authorizing electronic practice modalities and temporary licensing of social workers to address mental health needs of their constituents, regulators figured out how to implement the EOs while protecting the consuming public. Many social workers outside state lines were able to practice in state under EOs; as those begin to expire, the previously existing laws and regulations will resume.

As EOs expire, regulators (and licensees) face new challenges to ensure practicing licensees meet jurisdictional requirements. In many cases, the EOs are expiring without a transition period. Continuity of care and continuity of billing are two concerns arising from this “hard stop” ending of COVID-related licensing and practice flexibilities. The best advice for social workers practicing under emergency order provisions in a jurisdiction where you don’t hold a full license: Check with the regulatory board about next steps.
Yet for all of the challenges facing social work as we battle pandemic variants and work to reopen our schools and communities, there is encouraging news to share. People want to become social workers.

Enrollment is up more than 1 percent at accredited social work programs for fall 2021, according to CSWE research. Even during the pandemic, despite a nationwide 4.2% dip in post-secondary enrollment in 2020 (National Student Clearinghouse, 2021), enrollment increased at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral programs.

We wrote last year that the country “will eventually emerge from the shadow of COVID-19, and social workers will pivot again, quietly providing the vitally important services, advocacy, and leadership needed for a recovery that benefits people from every community… This is who we are.”

After we reopen and adjust to another “new normal,” it is encouraging to know this is who we will continue to be.


Rogers, K. (2021). Mental health is one of the biggest pandemic issues we’ll face in 2021. CNN Health. Retrieved from:

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. (2021). COVID-19: Stay Informed – National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (



Related Posts:

February 2: Time for New Outreach to Social Workers

October 29: We Want to Hear from You!

April 30: Suppressing Voter Suppression

February 26: Essential and Valued

January 29: A Vaccine Is Not a Cure

December 1: Election 2020: Wins All Around!

October 16: How do you eat an elephant…?

October 9 – Creating an Inclusive Economy

September 25 – We ‘have a way to go’ to achieve racial equity in social work

September 11 – Social Work and School Reopening

August 24 – Each One Register One

August 7 – Ensuring All Levels of Self-Care

July 24 – Will the Pandemic Cause Mental Trauma?

July 10 – Interprofessional Health Care Model Responds to Both Pandemics

June 19 – This Is Who We Are

June 5 – Two Pandemics

May 15 – Let’s Call It What It Is…Telesocialwork

May 1 – What’s the Meaning of This?

April 24 – Social Worker COVID-19 Survey

April 17 – COVID-19 and Social Justice

April 10 – Reinforcing the Essential Nature of Social Work

April 3 – Balancing “Essential” with Safe and Ethical

March 27 – COVID-19 Telehealth: Providing Mental Health Support Safely, Ethically and Competently

March 20 – Social Work in this Unprecedented Time


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