The CDC Decreased The COVID-19 Quarantine Period: What This Means for Employers

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On Wednesday, December 2, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its recommended quarantine period for those individuals who were in close contact with a person with COVID-19. The revised guidance, while still ideally recommending a 14-day quarantine period, now permits exposed individuals to end quarantine after 7 days with a negative test (collected within 48 hours of the final day of quarantine), or 10 days without a test. This development will allow employers to bring exposed employees back into the workplace much faster than before.

Until now, the CDC had recommended that those coming into close contact with an infected individual should isolate for 14 days – the incubation period for COVID-19. (As we discussed in our October 2020 E-Update, the CDC has recently redefined “close contact” to include exposure within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative – not single – total of 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period). Based on research developments, however, it appears that a person who contracts COVID-19 is most infectious during the initial 7/10-day period, with only a small increased risk of infection for the remainder of the incubation period.

Employers should revise their return-to-work protocols in accordance with the new recommendation. Under the new recommendations, as well as other recent guidance from the CDC, the following principles currently apply:

  • Employees who have been in close contact with an infected individual, assuming that they do not develop symptoms, may return to work after a 7-day quarantine period with a negative test or a 10-day period without a test. Given the recent surge of infections, however, employers should recognize that testing availability may be rather limited, which may result in the application of the 10-day period by default.
  • Following release from quarantine, for the rest of the 14-day period, those employees should continue to monitor for symptoms, wear a mask or face covering (which may be required by state or local order), stay at least 6 feet away from others, observe hand hygiene and other standard preventive steps.
  • Employees who previously tested positive for COVID-19 need not quarantine after close contact for a period of three months after recovering from the infection, as we discussed in our August 2020 E-Update.
  • And as we most recently explained in our November 2020 E-Update, workers in critical infrastructure industries may continue working after exposure to COVID-19 (rather than quarantining) as long as they remained asymptomatic, and subject to certain conditions, although the CDC states 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.”

This is obviously a fast-moving and ever-changing situation, and we will continue to send out E-Lerts on any significant developments. You may also wish to check our continually-updated COVID-19 FAQs frequently.