COVID-19 Employer Update: CDC Shortens Recommended Isolation and Quarantine Period

On December 27, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) released a media statement shortening the recommended isolation and quarantine periods for the general population.  These changes were made in response to updated science showing that the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs early in the course of illness (generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after). 

Isolation Period (when an employee tests positive for COVID-19)

The CDC shortened the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic or the person’s symptoms are resolving, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others.  If the individual is still experiencing a fever after the 5 days, they should continue to stay home until the fever resolves.  If the person is still experiencing other symptoms (such as sore throat, runny nose, cough, etc.) that do not appear to be resolving after the 5 days, the person should continue to stay at home until the symptoms begin to resolve.  Note, loss of taste or smell may persist for weeks or months after recovery and need not delay the end of isolation.

Isolation periods should be followed even if a person is asymptomatic. 

Quarantine Period (when an employee has been exposed to COVID-19)

A quarantine period refers to the time following exposure to the virus or close contact with someone known to have COVID-19 (defined as being within 6 feet of someone for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period).  The CDC’s new quarantine guidance depends on the individual’s recent vaccination and booster shot status. 

Individuals who: 1) are fully vaccinated AND received their booster shot, 2) completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna within the last 6 months; or 3) received the single Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the last 2 months do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days following the exposure

In contrast, individuals who: 1) are unvaccinated, 2) completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna over 6 months ago and are not boosted; or 3) received the single Johnson & Johnson vaccine over two months ago and are not boosted should quarantine for 5 days after exposure, followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days.  The CDC notes that if quarantining is not possible, the individual must wear a mask at all times around others for 10 days after exposure. 

All individuals exposed to COVID-19 should test on day 5 after exposure. 

If at any point after exposure an individual develops symptoms, they should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms the symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.

Quarantine timelines start from the date of last exposure.  If the employee is living with or caring for someone who has COVID-19, and remains in close contact with that person, the employee may have to quarantine longer based on the date of last exposure to the virus.

The CDC published the following graphic summarizing the new COVID-19 isolation and quarantine periods, which may be helpful as a quick reference:

What should employers do in response to these updates?

The CDC isolation and quarantine recommendations are considered the gold standard for employers wanting to maintain a healthy and safe workplace.  The fact that an employer follows these guidelines can also reduce possible liability for workplace-related exposure. 

While employers should already have a COVID-19 policy in place, they should update their policies to reflect the new COVID-19 isolation and quarantine periods and communicate the same to their employees.  Implementing these policies and communicating clear quarantine and isolation periods ensures employees understand the expectations following exposure or infection and can help employees feel more comfortable in the workplace amidst the rising Omicron variant.

As a reminder, there is no longer a federal requirement to provide employees paid time off during isolation and/or quarantine periods. For employers of police, firefighters and EMTs, Texas law requires paid COVID-19 quarantine leave (H.B. 2073).

For additional guidance, visit the CDC’s COVID-19 page.

This summary was prepared by Lloyd Gosselink’s Employment Law Practice Group:  Sheila GladstoneSarah GlaserEmily Linn, and Jessica Maynard.  If you would like more information, please contact Sheila at sgladstone@lglawfirm.com or 512.322.5863, Sarah at sglaser@lglawfirm.com or 512.322.5881, Emily at elinn@lglawfirm.com or 512.322.5889, or Jessica at jmaynard@lglawfirm.com or 512.322.5807.

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