Most employers, along with everyone else in the country, have struggled over the last 2.5 years to understand what to do when an individual tests positive for COVID-19 or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, and how that is affected by whether an individual has been vaccinated or previously suffered from COVID-19. We have seen the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as state and local health departments, issue a myriad of pronouncements on the appropriate action to take in such situations, with the CDC guidelines usually controlling. Now, the CDC has yet again modified its position on the best course of action.
On August 11, 2022, the CDC issued a new guidance (https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2022/p0811-covid-guidance.html
) that attempts to streamline its prior guidance in order to help the public better understand how to protect themselves and others if they are exposed to, sick from, or test positive for COVID-19. In issuing the guidance, the CDC stated it recognizes the pandemic is not over, but that “with so many tools available to us for reducing COVID-19 severity, there is significantly less risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death compared to earlier in the pandemic,” and the country is thus at a point “where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives.”
This new guidance focuses on individual responsibility and includes the following recommendations:
- The CDC continues to promote the importance of being up to date with all types of vaccination(s) to protect people against serious illness, hospitalization, and death. The guidance emphasizes that, “it is important to stay up to date, especially as new vaccines become available.”
- Quarantining is no longer recommended following COVID-19 exposure, regardless of vaccination status. Rather, the CDC recommends anyone exposed to COVID-19 wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day 5.
- The CDC continues to recommend that regardless of vaccination status, if someone has tested positive for COVID-19, or if they are sick or suspect they have COVID-19, they should isolate from others. If an individual has tested positive, it is recommended that they stay home for at least 5 days. If after 5 days they are fever-free for 24 hours, without the use of medication, and they either did not have symptoms or their symptoms are improving, they can end the isolation.
- Individuals who had moderate illness (experienced shortness of breath or had difficulty breathing) or severe illness (were hospitalized) due to COVID-19, or have a weakened immune system, should isolate through at least day 10.
- Individuals who had severe illness or have a weakened immune system should consult with their healthcare provider before ending isolation.
- The guidance further recommends that if an individual’s COVID-19 symptoms worsen, they should restart their isolation at day 0.
- The CDC no longer recommends screening testing of asymptomatic people without known exposures in most community settings.
- Finally, the CDC emphasizes that physical distance is just one component of how individuals can protect themselves and others, and it states the importance of considering the risk in a particular setting, including local COVID-19 Community Levels and the important role of ventilation, when assessing the need to maintain physical distance.
While the new guidance is good news for employers, it is not the last we will hear from the CDC, as it concluded the guidance by stating, “[i]n the coming weeks CDC will work to align stand-alone guidance documents, such as those for healthcare settings, congregate settings at higher risk of transmission, and travel, with today’s update.”