LawFlash

How the CDC’s Updated COVID-19 Guidance Affects Employers

August 18, 2022

While state and local governments and local health authorities can continue to require individuals and businesses to maintain stricter standards than the CDC’s recently updated guidance, the changes reflect the CDC’s current assessment of COVID-19 risk. Employers should evaluate their current COVID-19 policies and procedures.

Summary of Key Changes

On August 11, 2022, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced changes to its COVID-19 guidance.

Quarantine Guidance

The CDC has eliminated the recommendation that any individual exposed to COVID-19 should self-quarantine, so long as the individual remains asymptomatic. Previously, the CDC recommended a five-day or longer quarantine for anyone exposed to COVID-19 who was not up to date on their vaccines and boosters. This change in policy is significant, as it eliminates the distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, which previous CDC guidance emphasized.

The CDC now recommends that individuals who are exposed but do not develop symptoms should wear a mask as soon as they learn they were exposed and should get tested at least five full days after their last exposure.

If an individual who was exposed to COVID-19 develops symptoms, the CDC still advises that they isolate immediately, wear a mask, get tested, and remain at home until they know the result. If the results are positive, the individual should follow the isolation guidance outlined by the CDC.

Testing Guidance

The CDC’s updated testing guidance continues to recommend that persons with a known or suspected exposure to someone with COVID-19 should get tested at least five full days after their last exposure, and those who experience symptoms should promptly seek testing through point-of-care and at-home tests.

However, the CDC now only recommends screening or surveillance testing programs in “high risk” congregate settings.

The CDC specifically explained in this updated guidance that “[s]creening testing may be most valuable in certain settings where early identification is essential to reducing transmission and mitigating risk for severe disease among populations at high risk.” The CDC’s examples of such high-risk congregate settings are assisted living facilities, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and settings that involve close quarters and that are isolated from healthcare resources, such as fishing vessels, firefighter camps, or offshore oil platforms.

The guidance notes that when screening testing is used, “it should be applied to participants regardless of vaccination status.”

Mask Guidance

The CDC continues to recommend masking for all individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19 or are infected with it.

For individuals who test positive for COVID-19, the CDC recommends that the individual wear a mask or respirator around others at home and in public through day 10 of their infection. Per the CDC, however, the infected individual may discontinue masking sooner if

  1. they are without a fever for more than 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and all other symptoms have improved, and
  2. starting on day 6 of infection, the individual tests negative on two consecutive COVID-19 antigen tests taken at least 48 hours apart.

Individuals who test positive after day 5 of an infection can end their isolation period, but the CDC recommends that they wear a mask around others until they receive two consecutive negative test results, at least 48 hours apart. The CDC recognizes that this means some individuals should continue masking for more than 10 days after onset of the illness if they continue to test positive on antigen tests.

The guidance for those who had a recent exposure (see the CDC’s exposure risks guidance) also includes a recommendation that exposed individuals wear a mask or respirator around others for a full 10 days. Unlike the guidance for those who have tested positive, however, the CDC recommends continued mask-wearing for 10 days after exposure, even if the individual tests negative between days 6 and 10.

The CDC continues to recommend that persons at a higher risk of severe illness should wear masks or respirators in public where COVID-19 community levels are medium or high, and that all persons should wear masks in public where COVID-19 community levels are high.

Implications for Employers

With this new guidance, employers should consider evaluating their current COVID-19 policies and protocols.

In particular, employers should do the following:

  1. Evaluate any screening testing procedures, including testing as a reasonable accommodation, in light of the CDC guidance, as well as the recent EEOC guidance on this topic.
  2. For employers who may have employees who work in high-risk settings, review any procedures in place for the mitigation of COVID-19 for employees, as well as for members of the public with whom employees may interact.
  3. Review existing policies related to masking in indoor settings, as well as notification procedures for employees who have been exposed to or have tested positive for COVID-19.

Although the CDC guidance remains a recommendation, it is likely that states and local jurisdictions will change their requirements in response. However, some state and local health departments’ requirements likely will remain stricter than the CDC’s guidance. As a result, employers should continue to monitor any applicable state and local guidance and requirements.

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Contacts

If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

New York
Leni D. Battaglia

Orange County
Daryl S. Landy

Philadelphia
A. Klair Fitzpatrick

Princeton
Emily DeSmedt

Washington, DC
E. Pierce Blue
Sharon Masling