By: Laura M. Raisty, Esq. & Michelle M. De Oliveira, Esq.
On January 9, 2022, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) provided additional guidance to clarify its December 27, 2021 update, in which it shortened recommended COVID-19 quarantine and isolation periods. According to the CDC, the shorter periods focus on when a person is most infectious and also “facilitate individual social and well-being needs, return to work, and maintenance of critical infrastructure.” On January 11, 2022, Governor Charlie Baker announced new isolation and quarantine protocols aligned with the newly issued CDC guidance.
If an individual has been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 the CDC recommends as follows:
- If the individual is not up to date with vaccination(s): stay at home and quarantine for at least 5 days, at which point they can leave quarantine if they are symptom free. If contact with others in the home cannot be avoided during the quarantine period, the individual should wear a well-fitted mask.
- If the individual is up to date with vaccination(s): there is no need to quarantine, unless they develop symptoms, at which point they should isolate and get tested.
Being “up to date” with vaccinations, according to the CDC, means that the individual received the recommended additional doses or booster doses. This is important as it is a change from what we had seen before—and receiving two-doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or a single-dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine does not suffice to forego the need to quarantine.
Regardless of vaccination status, anyone who is exposed to COVID-19 should get tested at least 5 days after exposure, even if they do not develop symptoms and do the following until Day 10: (1) wear a well-fitted mask anytime they are around others; (2) avoid travel; (3) avoid being around people who are at high risk; and (4) watch for symptoms. If they develop symptoms, they should isolate immediately and get tested.
If an individual has tested positive for COVID-19 or is symptomatic, the CDC’s recommendations do not differ based on vaccination status. All infected persons should stay home for 5 days and isolate from others in their home. Again, if contact with others in the home cannot be avoided, the individual should wear a well-fitted mask.
The CDC’s recommendations with respect to when the isolation period ends are as follows:
- Individuals who are asymptomatic after 5 full days after a positive test: may end isolation.
- Individuals who had symptoms: may end isolation after 5 full days if they are fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and the symptoms are improving.
- Individuals who were severely ill with COVID-19: should isolate for at least 10 days and consult a physician before leaving isolation.
All infected persons should do the following until Day 10: (1) wear a well-fitted mask anytime they are around others; (2) avoid travel; and (3) avoid being around people who are at high risk.
Interplay of New CDC Guidance With OSHA’s ETS
On January 7, 2022, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in cases challenging the validity and enforceability of OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that applies to employers with 100+ employees. As of now, the ETS remains in full force and effect as an order to stay enforcement has yet to be issued (and it is unclear if one will be issued).
OSHA imposed a January 10, 2022 deadline for compliance with ETS, with a single exception for the weekly testing requirement (which has a February 9th deadline). Employers have been preparing for the upcoming deadlines, and the updated CDC guidance relating to isolation and quarantine now adds an additional wrinkle.
Here is why:
The ETS incorporated the CDC’s Isolation Guidance with regard to when an employee can return to work after a positive COVID-19 test. Under that guidance, which was issued almost a year prior on February 18, 2021:
- Individuals who thought or knew they had COVID-19 and had symptoms: could be with others after: (a) at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared; and (b) at least 24 hours with no fever without any fever-reducing medication; and (c) other COVID-19 symptoms were improving.
- Asymptomatic individuals who tested positive for COVID-19: could be with others after 10 days had passed since the positive test result.
That guidance evidently is not aligned with the newly issued December 27, 2021 and January 9, 2022 CDC guidance (discussed above).
That said, despite the newly issued CDC guidance, employers may still need to comply with the Isolation Guidance (because it was incorporated into the ETS—until OSHA issues additional updates and guidance to address the discrepancy between the Isolation Guidance and the CDC’s updated recommendations.
Moreover, the ETS does not include the “up to date” with vaccinations terminology and booster shots and additional doses are not included in the definition of “fully vaccinated.” For this reason, an employer is not required to obtain vaccination-related information beyond a two-dose series Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or a single-dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine when complying with the ETS.
Importantly, the ETS imposed a January 10, 2022 deadline for employers to have a written policy that complies with ETS and to notify its employees regarding the same. Earlier client alerts relating to ETS may be accessed here and here. Employers who have questions about their policy or implementation are encouraged to contact a K&S attorney.
There is no doubt that the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the case challenging the ETS’s enforceability will have a tremendous impact, one way or another, on the ETS’s future. We will continue to monitor the developments closely to provide additional updates.
It is important for employers to understand the new guidelines relating to quarantine and isolation following COVID-19 and take steps to ensure workplace safety. Employers with questions are encouraged to contact a K&S attorney to ensure that they are in compliance.
This alert is for informational purposes only and may be considered advertising. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, tax or professional advice or services. You should seek specific detailed legal advice prior to taking any definitive actions.
 Close contact is being less than 6 feet away from an infected person for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
 For purposes of calculating the quarantine period, the date of exposure is considered Day 0 for purposes of calculating the quarantine period. Day 1 is the first full day after last contact with a person who has COVID-19.
 For purposes of calculating the isolation period, Day 0 is the first day of symptoms or a positive viral test. Day 1 is the first full day after symptoms developed or the test specimen was collected.