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CDC Updates Its Return-to-Work Standards

April 15, 2020
Dealing with employees who rejoin the workforce after a bout of Coronavirus.

With a disease that is as widespread and pervasive as the Coronavirus, one inevitable challenge facing employers is how to address the return to work of employees who have suffered through it and survived. For that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has offered some good advice in a recently updated guidance.

The CDC guidance on when a person with COVID-19 may discontinue home isolation creates a more flexible standard that is hoped will assist employers and employees in dealing with absences during the ongoing pandemic.

Previously, the CDC’s recommendation was that people who test positive for the Coronavirus or people experiencing COVID-19 like symptoms should self-quarantine for 14 days. The updated guidelines now allow people to end home isolation and return to work well before the previous 14-day period ended.

According to the CDC, these new recommendations will prevent most, but may not prevent all, instances of secondary spread, point out attorneys Nicholas Hulse and Travis Vance of the law firm of Fisher Phillips.

“What remains the same is that you should immediately separate employees who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms when they arrive at work or who become sick during the day from other employees, customers and visitors,” they say. “What’s updated is that you can bring an employee back to work from home isolation when they satisfy one of the two options presented by the CDC.”

According to the CDC’s first option, employees who were not tested for the Coronavirus but who had symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue home isolation under the following conditions:

● At least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery, which is defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.

● The improvement of respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath.

● At least seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

If the employee is tested to determine if they are still contagious, they also can leave home after these three things have happened:

● The employee no longer has a fever (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers).

● Other symptoms have improved (for example, when the cough or shortness of breath have improved).

● The employee has received two negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart, when the patient’s doctor follows certain CDC guidelines.

“In all cases, follow the guidance of your healthcare provider and local health department,” the CDC stresses. “The decision to stop home isolation should be made in consultation with your healthcare provider and state and local health departments. Local decisions depend on local circumstances.”

The CDC’s previous recommendations for a test-based strategy remain applicable, Hulse and Vance note. “However, a test-based strategy is contingent on the availability of ample testing supplies and laboratory capacity as well as convenient access to testing. For jurisdictions that choose to use a test-based strategy, the recommended protocol has been simplified so that only one swab is needed at every sampling.”

In situations where an employee tests positive for the Coronavirus, the lawyers say the employer should inform the other employees that they were possibly exposed to the illness at work. At the same time, keep in mind that employers are obligated to maintain the confidentiality of the identity of the employee who tested positive under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Those employees who worked closely with the infected employee should self-monitor for symptoms and follow the CDC guidelines as necessary.

Individuals with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 who have not had any symptoms may discontinue home isolation when at least seven days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test and have had no subsequent illness.

The decision to discontinue home isolation should be made along these guidelines, while also considering the context of local circumstances, Hulse and Vance advise.

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