Modified CDC guidance offers employers options for quarantining

Under revised guidance issued on Dec. 2, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided new options for shorter quarantine periods due to COVID-19 exposure. These new quarantine alternatives will provide some relief to employers dealing with staffing shortages due to quarantining employees. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC guidance has provided that an individual in close contact with an infected person must self-quarantine for 14 days after the last exposure.  Over time, the CDC has come to recognize that the hardship of a two-week quarantine period can negatively impact compliance. As a result, the CDC’s new guidance recommends a more flexible approach to quarantining in hopes of improving compliance with minimal increased risk.

The CDC’s modified guidance now offers two “acceptable alternative quarantine periods” for individuals exposed to the virus.

  • Seven-day quarantine with a test. If a community has adequate testing resources, the quarantine can end after just seven days if a person tests negative for the virus at some point in the final two days of that period. The test can be either a rapid-response antigen test or the more reliable PCR test that takes longer to process.
  • Ten-day quarantine without a test. Alternatively, the quarantine can end after 10 days without a test if a person monitors any potential symptoms, such as fever, on a daily basis and has none. The exposed person is expected to continue monitoring symptoms and wearing a mask for the full 14 days despite discontinuing quarantine.

Note that the 14-day quarantine period continues as part of the CDC’s guidance, as something of a “gold standard,” providing the lowest level of risk for transmission. In fact, the CDC guidance indicates that in some settings with high contact rates, a shortened quarantine period may not be the best option. This means that employers will need to realistically evaluate the best quarantine approach to ensure the safety of their workplace.  

The CDC’s two new alternatives offer hard-pressed employers with flexibility to get employees who are not infected back to work. However, employers should keep in mind that certain states and localities may have orders in place that impose more stringent quarantine requirements than the CDC guidance. 

The modified CDC guidance re-enforces what employers have understood from the beginning of this pandemic: This remains a fluid situation with guidance that changes on a regular basis.  To protect their workforces, employers need to regularly evaluate safety practices and use available guidance to make the best decisions for their work environment.

The McDonald Hopkins Labor and Employment Response Team will continue to monitor developments and provide updates on further employment law issues as they arise related to the COVID-19 crisis.

+