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New York Department of Health Adopts CDC’s COVID-19 Isolation & Quarantine Guidance

As a result of COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations continuing to spike across the state, the NYS Department of Health (NYSDOH) is taking steps necessary in order to respond accordingly. On December 24, 2021, in order to combat the shortage of healthcare workers and other essential workers, the NYSDOH issued an advisory that shortened the isolation period for those that are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic (or whose symptoms are mild and are improving). 

A few days later, on December 27th, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) held a press conference announcing the update of their own recommendations for isolation and quarantine for the general population. In an effort to best align with the CDC’s newly issued guidance, NYS announced on January 4, 2022, that they would adopt the CDC’s recommendations. The adoption of this new guidance would supersede the previously issued (December 24, 2021) guidance for critical workers. However, the December 24th guidance still applies to healthcare workers. Furthermore, the NYSDOH plans to review any further guidance that is issued by the CDC specifically regarding educational and congregate care settings.

According to the newly adopted guidance by the NYSDOH, it is recommended that:

General Population

  • COVID Positive:
    • Individuals must isolate for 5 days, where day 0 is the day of symptom onset or (if asymptomatic) the day of collection of the first positive test result.
    • If the individual is asymptomatic at the end of the 5-day isolation or if symptoms are improving, isolation can be discontinued, and a well-fitting mask will need to be worn around others in the workplace for the next 5 days.
      • Those who are unable to wear a mask due to a medical or religious exemption should follow the standard 10-day isolation.
    • Individuals who are moderately-severely immunocompromised should continue to follow the 10-day isolation standard.
  • COVID Exposure:
    • Individuals who are fully vaccinated with the exception of receiving a booster, should quarantine for 5 days, followed by wearing a well-fitting mask around others for the next 5 days.
    • Individuals who are fully vaccinated and boosted need not quarantine but should wear a well-fitting mask for the next 10 days following the last date of exposure.
    • Individuals should attempt to complete a COVID test (nucleic acid amplification test or an antigen test) as of the 5th day.
    • In the event that an individual has symptoms appear (regardless of vaccination/booster status), quarantine should begin immediately and can only end upon receiving a negative covid test or following the above-mentioned guidance for COVID positive individuals. 

Healthcare Settings

According to the NYSDOH, healthcare employers have a different levels of work restrictions that may be imposed based on the severity of staffing issues that the facility is facing at the time. These levels have been designated as “conventional,” “contingency,” or “crisis.” A description of the guidelines for each level can be found below:

  • Conventional Level
    • COVID Positive
      • Regardless of vaccination status, employees who have tested positive for the virus must isolate for 10 days or end isolation after 7 days with proof of a negative test and is asymptomatic or has mild symptoms that are improving.
    • COVID Exposure
      • Fully vaccinated and boosted employees need not isolate or have any work restrictions. However, it’s recommended that a test be administered after the 2nd day following exposure and once more between the 5th and 7th days following exposure.
      • Those who are vaccinated but not boosted and those not vaccinated at all must isolate for 10 days or 7 days with a negative test.
  • Contingency Level
    • COVID Positive
      • Fully vaccinated individuals, regardless of booster status can follow NYSDOH guidance and isolate for 5 days and return with wearing a well-fitting mask as long as symptoms are improving, or the individual is asymptomatic.
      • Non-vaccinated individuals must isolate for 10 days or for 7 days with a negative test
    • COVID Exposure
      • Individuals who are fully vaccinated and boosted have no restrictions
      • Individuals who are vaccinated but not boosted or individuals who are non-vaccinated do not have any restrictions but are required to complete a test on the first, second, third, and between the fifth- & seventh days following exposure.
  • Crisis Level
    • COVID Positive
      • Healthcare settings that are in need of designating their facility as being the “Crisis” level must notify the NYSDOH and follow CDC Crisis Strategies. Under extreme circumstances, an infected healthcare employee may be able to return to the workplace. 
    • COVID Exposure
      • Individuals who are fully vaccinated and boosted have no restrictions.
      • Individuals who are vaccinated but not boosted or individuals who are non-vaccinated don’t have any work restrictions either. However, they are required to test whenever possible, wear a well-fitting mask, and report any symptoms prior to beginning work.
        • For workplaces that are unable to test their employees, the NYSDOH must be notified.

Local Updates

Monroe County will also be adhering to the guidance that has been issued by the NYSDOH and CDC. On January 5, 2022, Monroe County Executive, Adam Bello, and Public Health Commissioner, Dr. Michael Mendoza, confirmed the need for adapting the county’s COVID-19 procedures to align with the state’s newly adopted guidance. On January 6, the county released written guidance in the form of frequently asked questions on isolation and quarantine periods.

Next Steps for Employers

Given the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic including the introduction of new variants, the CDC and NYSDOH have confirmed that they will continue to monitor and update guidance as needed.

In cases where state and 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 should also be noted that employers who may subject to the OSHA vaccination or testing ETS should also be mindful that ETS currently contains reference to the the CDC’s prior isolation and quarantine guidance from February 18, 2021 and not the current guidance issued on December 27, 2021. Until OSHA takes steps to update the ETS, employers who are subject may also wish to consult with their legal counsel on how to handle excluding employees from the workplace who test positive for COVID-19.

Because isolation/quarantine periods may be shorter and NY’s COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave allows for up to 14 days of paid leave (depending upon employer size), it does not change the law, but employers may end up paying for less days when an employee is under an order of isolation/quarantine, as the law was written based on the average duration of an isolation/quarantine period at the outset of the pandemic.

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 be mindful of any 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.

HR Works, Inc., headquartered at 200 WillowBrook Office Park in Fairport (Rochester), New York, with an office in East Syracuse, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.