On December 27, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced shortened isolation and quarantine periods for individuals who contract or are exposed to COVID-19 (coronavirus). The agency received some pushback, so it published additional details on its Quarantine and Isolation web page (updated January 4, 2022).
Isolation after testing positive: The new guidance states that people who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days. If they have no symptoms, or they’re fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and their other symptoms are resolving, they may return to normal activities after the 5-day isolation period as long as they wear a mask around others for the next 5 days.
Quarantine after exposure: Quarantine is still required for many people after exposure to the virus due to close contact (being within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period), but the time frames have changed. For unvaccinated individuals and those who are more than six months out from their final vaccine dose (and not yet boosted), the CDC recommends quarantine for 5 days, followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days, assuming no symptoms develop. Boosted individuals don’t have to quarantine after exposure to someone with COVID-19, but should wear a mask for 10 days, again assuming they have no symptoms.
The CDC recommends that anyone who is exposed should also be tested on the 5th day after exposure, if possible. If the employee tests positive, they should isolate for at least 5 days from the date of the positive test (assuming they don’t have any symptoms).
If an employee develops symptoms during quarantine, they should isolate, get tested, and then follow isolation protocols if they’re positive.
Tips: Remember that state safety and health agencies can issue their own isolation and quarantine guidance. On December 30, 2021, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued guidance that mostly aligns with the CDC’s changes, but adds a testing requirement in order to discontinue isolation or quarantine after five days. On December 30, 2021, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) issued guidance that aligns with the CDC. On December 28, 2021, the Washington Department of Health also issued guidance that incorporates the CDC’s changes. We will continue to monitor developments that affect the workplace and update our members.