CDC’s Updated COVID-19 Guidance: Next Steps for Employers
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 guidance to align with high levels of immunity and the availability of treatment and prevention tools that have made serious illness, hospitalization and death less likely.
Employers have an ongoing responsibility to keep workers safe. These new recommendations may streamline business planning and operations for COVID-19.
Updated recommendations include:
- Exposure to the virus: People who are exposed to the virus are no longer recommended to quarantine for 5 days. Instead, they should wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day 5. This now applies equally to people whether they are up to date on their vaccinations or not.
- Testing to screen for the virus: Companies are no longer recommended to test employees in order to screen for the virus (unless they are in high-risk, close-quarters settings). Employees should still test if they have symptoms or were exposed to the virus.
- Social distancing is not universally required. Employers should consider it along with other factors like the importance of ventilation and the local COVID-19 Community Level.
What HASN’T changed:
- Keeping up to date with vaccinations is still the best protection against serious illness and death. The existing vaccines and boosters are still effective against the variants of the virus currently circulating.
- People should isolate for at least 5 days if they have COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status.
- Improving indoor air quality is essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
- Masking is recommended where COVID-19 Community Levels are high — which is currently 39% of U.S. counties.
More considerations for employers:
- Continue to encourage vaccinations and boosters. A workforce whose vaccinations are up to date creates the safest possible workplace environment for employees and customers. Continue to provide paid time off to employees for vaccinations, boosters and recovery from side effects. Consider offering paid time off for workers who want to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. This is especially important for low-income workers and communities who are disproportionately impacted. On-site vaccination and booster clinics can make it easier for workers and their families to stay up-to-date with vaccines.
- Support vulnerable employees (for example, those who are immunocompromised or who have family members who are vulnerable to serious illness) and those who want to take extra precautions. Allow masking in all circumstances and communicate that you will not tolerate harassment of those who choose to mask up. You can also consider offering remote/flexible work arrangements and requiring masks for certain floors, wings or conference rooms. (If your workplace is too small to divide it in this way, you may want to require masking for the good of all your team.) Make it a partnership: collaborate on individualized accommodations. Finally, if an employee is returning to work after having COVID-19, place them apart from vulnerable employees for at least 6 days.
- Measure and improve the air quality in your workplace. Low-cost carbon dioxide sensors can tell you whether your employees are getting enough fresh air. You can improve the quality of the air with inexpensive HEPA and MERV filters. Read more.
- Keep tests available for employees who do show symptoms at work.
- Make sure employees know what to do if they test positive. They should isolate for 5 days (with the date of their positive test counting as day zero). After 5 days they can return to work if: (1) they have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication; AND (2) they never had symptoms or their symptoms are improving; AND (3) they wear a high-quality mask through day 10.
- Connect workers who test positive to treatment. Paxlovid is a pill that reduces the risk of hospitalization and death by 90%. It’s available — for free — in 41,000 locations, including one-stop “test to treat” sites. All these locations can be found through COVID.gov.
The bottom line: The pandemic is not over. CDC’s updated recommendations are a floor for safety, not an invitation to drop all your safeguards. You may want to go further depending on the needs of your workers.