CDC Modifies Guidance on Essential Workers Exposed to COVID-19: Working is “a Last Resort.”


Back in April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance that permitted workers in critical infrastructure industries to continue working after exposure to COVID-19 (rather than quarantining) as long as they remained asymptomatic. The CDC has now revised its guidance to state that this should be used only as “a last resort and only in limited circumstances, such as when cessation of operation of a facility may cause serious harm or danger to public health or safety.”

The revisions are based on new scientific evidence regarding the transmission risk from asymptomatic individuals as well as the ongoing community transmission risk in many areas. The CDC notes that a 14-day quarantine following exposure is still the safest approach.

If COVID-exposed but asymptomatic critical infrastructure workers are required to work, the CDC continues to apply the guidelines that it previously articulated (which we summarized in our April 15, 2020 E-lert):

  • Employees should self-screen at home prior to reporting to work. They should not report to work if they have COVID-19 symptoms, a temperature equal to or higher than 100.4 oF, or are waiting for the results of a viral test.
  • Employers should conduct an on-site symptom assessment, including a temperature check, prior to each work shift.
  • The employee should self-monitor for symptoms under supervision of the employer’s occupational health program.
  • The employee should wear a face mask or covering (which may be required under local or state mandates in any case).
  • To the extent possible, the employee should maintain a distance of 6 feet from others in the workplace.
  • Work spaces such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, and shared equipment should be cleaned and disinfected routinely.

If the employee becomes ill, they should be sent home immediately and their workspace cleaned and disinfected. Other employees who came into close contact with the employee during the two days prior to any symptoms would themselves be considered exposed and subject to the guidelines above.

The CDC recommends that critical infrastructure employers reduce the need to reintegrate exposed critical infrastructure workers by:

  • Identifying and prioritizing job functions essential for continuous operation,
  • Cross-training employees to perform critical job functions so the workplace can operate even if key employees are absent, and
  • Matching critical job functions with other equally skilled and available workers who have not experienced an exposure to a person with confirmed COVID-19.