The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new shorter quarantine options for consideration by local public health authorities on December 2, 2020. The CDC still recommends a 14-day quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 (coronavirus) but says local authorities may shorten that time depending on local conditions. The new options would allow individuals who are exposed to a person with COVID-19 to end quarantine after 10 days if the exposed person hasn’t developed any symptoms or just 7 days if the asymptomatic exposed person also tests negative for the virus. The specimen for the negative test may be collected up to 48 hours before the end of the 7-day quarantine period. Under either the 10-day option or the 7-day option, the exposed individual should continue daily self-monitoring for symptoms during the full 14-day period, just in case symptoms appear. During this 14-day period, the CDC recommends also being diligent about other practical steps to avoid transmission of the virus, such as consistent and correct use of face coverings, physical distancing, and avoiding crowds.
The CDC maintains that its prior recommendation of a 14-day quarantine for exposed individuals is still the safest way to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, but the shortened alternatives balance that risk with factors such as better testing availability and the psychological and economic consequences of longer quarantines. As a reminder, exposure is currently defined as close contact – coming within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes within a 24-hour period, regardless of the use of face coverings – with an infected person, measured from 2 days before symptom onset or positive test until the infected person meets the criteria for discontinuing home isolation.
On November 16, 2020, the CDC also updated its guidance for exposed critical infrastructure workers to state that employers who allow exposed (but asymptomatic) critical infrastructure workers to continue working during the normal 14-day quarantine period should only do so as a last resort, “such as when cessation of operation of a facility may cause serious harm or danger to public health or safety.” (The purpose of a 14-day quarantine is to see whether symptoms develop in the exposed worker.) The CDC’s guidance continues to permit exposed critical infrastructure workers to work if they remain asymptomatic and take safety precautions during the 14-day period after exposure, including screening for symptoms before coming to work, screening upon arriving at work, monitoring for symptoms while at work, using face coverings, maintaining physical distance when possible, and cleaning surfaces.
Tips: Keep in mind that the CDC is just making recommendations; actual standards are set and enforced by local authorities, so you need to be familiar with the requirements in your area. Today the Washington Department of Health announced it’s adopting the CDC’s shortened quarantine options after a COVID-19 exposure. The CDC’s guidance for individuals who actually become infected remains the same. Those with symptoms can return to work after 10 days have passed since symptoms began as long as they’re fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication), and other symptoms continue to improve. Infected individuals who never develop symptoms may return 10 days after a positive test. For questions about appropriate safety precautions or how to modify your exposure control plan, please contact your Vigilant safety professional. Your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney can assist you with questions about sick or exposed employees, leave benefits, and when it’s appropriate for employees to return to work.