On August 11, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) once again revised its public health recommendations regarding COVID-19 prevention measures in general community settings, including non-healthcare workplaces. In doing so, the CDC acknowledged that “COVID-19 is here to stay,” and seemed to shift its focus from viral containment to lessening the risk of severe illness and death associated with the virus. Chief among these changes is the CDC’s removal of its quarantine recommendation – individuals are no longer advised that they should quarantine following close contact exposure to COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status, where they do not experience symptoms or test positive.

The CDC’s revised COVID-19 prevention recommendations emphasize the following:

  • Instead of quarantining, individuals exposed to COVID-19 should wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day 5.
  • The isolation-related recommendations for individuals who test positive or have COVID-19 symptoms largely remain the same: (i) regardless of vaccination status, individuals should isolate from others when they test positive (for at least 5 days based upon individual risk category) and should wear a high-quality mask for at least 10 days; and (ii) if an individual has symptoms, they should get tested and isolate while they await their test results – if results are negative, isolation can end).
  • The CDC made clear that individuals who are immunocompromised or had a moderate or severe COVID-19 illness (evidenced by difficulty breathing or hospitalization) should isolate for 10 days or potentially longer based upon advice from healthcare providers.
  • The CDC also clarified that after an individual ends isolation, if COVID-19 symptoms worsen or reappear, the individual should restart the isolation period.
  • Screening performed via testing of asymptomatic people without known exposures will no longer be recommended in most community settings, including non-healthcare workplaces.
  • Separate recommendations continue to apply to healthcare professionals.

Impact on Employers & Workplaces

Employers should consider the effect the CDC’s revised recommendations may have on several fronts:

  • Most immediately, based upon the CDC’s revised recommendations, employers should consider whether to revisit the quarantine and isolation policies that they have put into place (and revised, and revised anew) throughout the pandemic. Updated policies may wish to remove quarantine periods for workers with close contact exposure but no symptoms. Employers may still require individuals with exposure concerns to test for COVID-19.
  • As we covered last month, the EEOC recently revised its own pandemic-related guidance to emphasize that employers administering viral testing as a mandatory screening measure should show that such testing is job related and consistent with business necessity. Given the CDC’s declaration that viral screening of asymptomatic people without known exposure is no longer recommended, employers should continue to carefully analyze whether administering wide-scale, indiscriminate testing should be a condition for workplace entry.
  • In the coming weeks, state and local health departments may adopt the revised CDC recommendations. As a result, employers in states with COVID-19-related leave laws – including New York’s COVID-19 Quarantine Leave Law – may see the requirements around leave benefits shift as well. For instance, where an order of quarantine is no longer applicable, New York employees without the ability to telework may have less access to COVID-19 Quarantine Leave than they did previously. We will await potential updated guidance from the NYSDOL and other states’ agencies on this point.
  • Some states and local jurisdictions, such as California with its Cal/OSHA COVID-19 standards, may continue to have stricter requirements that trump any evolving public health recommendations/guidance. Employers should remain aware of any shifting requirements regarding quarantine, isolation, worker removal, testing, and vaccination based upon state and local requirements.