On December 27, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its recommendation for isolation and quarantine periods due to what is currently known about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant’s transmission occurring early in the course of illness. The CDC’s recommendations for both quarantine and isolation periods have been shortened from ten (10) days to five (5) days, if asymptomatic, followed by five days of wearing a mask when around others.
In the latest recommendations, the CDC advises that those who have been boosted or have completed the primary vaccination series (Pfizer or Moderna) more than six months ago or received the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen primary vaccine more than two months ago need not quarantine and should wear a mask around others for ten (10) days and test on day five (5), if possible. For those who completed their primary vaccination over six months ago (Pfizer or Moderna) or over two months ago (J & J) and have not received a booster, it is recommended they stay home for five days, after which, they continue to wear a mask around others for five additional days and test on day five, if possible. Alternatively, if a five (5) day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for ten (10) days after exposure.
The CDC notes that those with fevers should continue to quarantine until the fever resolves. The CDC further recommends that all individuals who have had close contact with someone known to have COVID-19 get tested five (5) days after exposure, regardless of vaccination status.
Next Steps for Employers
The CDC’s recommendations do not have the weight of law and do not supersede state or local requirements for isolation and quarantine, and it is still imperative that employers rely on the guidelines set forth by their state and/or local health departments or other agencies. Employers who may subject to the OSHA vaccination or testing ETS should also be mindful that ETS currently contains the prior version of the CDC isolation guidance, which requires employees to isolate until:
- 10 days after their first symptoms or administration of their positive test;
- Their symptoms improved, and
- They were fever-free for 24 hours (Note: the ETS does not address quarantine periods for exposed employees).
This recommendation would still be applicable for purposes of compliance with the ETS, as OSHA cannot change the ETS to reflect the new guidance unless it publishes the new CDC guidelines in the Federal Register. It is currently unknown whether the agency will take step to modify this recommendation and/or how strict their enforcement efforts will be around isolation and quarantine periods pending any modifications.
In cases where state or local guidelines align with the CDC’s recommendations; employers may want to review and revise their policies to reflect this updated guidance on isolation and quarantine periods.
It is also important to note that employers may still exercise additional caution and maintain policies which exclude employees from the workplace for longer periods of time (i.e., 10 or 14 days) if they are positive for COVID-19, regardless of symptoms or if they are exposed to a confirmed positive COVID-19 case. Employers wishing to do so should also understand potential obligations that may be triggered by state or local COVID-19 paid leave laws such as NY COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave.
HR Works will continue to monitor this topic and provide updated information as it becomes available.