On August 11, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unveiled its updated COVID-19 guidelines, revising both quarantine and isolation guidelines in the process. The updates reflect the growing number of vaccinated individuals (meaning, those individuals who have received initial doses and all recommended boosters) and past exposures, leading to a greater level of herd immunity than in previous eras of the virus. These adjustments to the CDC’s guidance also serve, in large part, to clarify existing recommendations or to loosen restrictions. This article provides a closer look at what exactly the updated guidance requires and how to best approach these updates in the workplace.

WHAT DOES THE CDC RECOMMEND YOU DO IF YOU ARE EXPOSED TO COVID-19?

First, irrespective of vaccination status, individuals are no longer required to quarantine simply because they are exposed to COVID-19 as long as they do not develop COVID-19 symptoms or test positive. The CDC advises that exposed individuals can continue to go to work, attend school and continue life as normal so long as they wear a well-fitting, high-quality mask for 10 days after exposure.

The CDC also recommends that individuals who are exposed and experiencing symptoms get tested for the virus five days after exposure. If those test results are positive, the individual should isolate away from others. If the results are negative, the individual can end their quarantine period but should continue to wear a mask as a precaution. Exposed individuals should take particular care when around people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.

WHEN DOES THE CDC RECOMMEND THAT SOMEONE ISOLATE FROM OTHERS?

The CDC still recommends people isolate under certain circumstances. As a reminder, quarantine is the term used for individuals who are exposed, while isolation is the term used for individuals who are actively sick with the virus.

If someone tests positive for COVID-19, they should stay at home and isolate themselves from others for at least five days. If someone with COVID-19 must be around others (such as a family member who the person lives with), they should wear a high-quality mask until 10 days after the first positive test result. The positive individual should avoid being around people who are more likely to get very ill from COVID-19 until at least day 11 after testing positive. If symptoms worsen after the isolation period ends (meaning day 11), the isolation clock should be restarted, and a healthcare provider should be consulted about when to end isolation. The 10-day masking period after a positive result can end early if the individual takes two rapid result tests 48 hours apart and both of those tests are negative for COVID-19.

Isolation is counted in days as follows:

  • If the individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 has no symptoms, Day 0 is the day a person tests for COVID. Day 1 is the first full day following the test. If the individual develops symptoms within 10 days of testing, the clock restarts at Day 0 of the day of symptom onset.
  • If the individual has symptoms, Day 0 of isolation is the day of symptom onset—regardless of when someone may test positive. Day 1 is then the first full day after the onset of symptoms.

ARE THERE ANY UPDATES TO THE CDC’S RECOMMENDATIONS ON COVID-19 PREVENTION?

The CDC continues to recommend contact tracing and notification, and efforts should be focused on identifying and notifying individuals who are exposed to COVID-19 and providing such individuals with information and resources, including information on access to testing.

The CDC also continues to recommend up-to-date vaccination as the best form of prevention.

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT EMPLOYERS?

The biggest change for employers with these newest guidelines is the effective end of the quarantine requirement following exposure to COVID-19. Employees are no longer required to stay away from the workplace because they have been exposed to the virus so long as they wear a high-quality mask. However, employees should remain at home if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or if they present symptoms of COVID-19.

As has always been the case, CDC guidance is not law, however, it provides employers with a national recommended standard for COVID-19 safety. Employers are permitted to have more protective standards than the CDC recommends, where permitted by law. The loosening of CDC guidance does not impact employer obligations to comply with state and local COVID-19 requirements, which may remain more stringent. Likewise, employers must still comply with other employment laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar state laws, which may still require engagement in the interactive process and implementation of reasonable accommodations for employees based on their health conditions.