CDC Shortens Quarantine and Isolation Periods for Certain Individuals

On Monday, December 27, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a press release announcing it was shortening its quarantine and isolation recommendations. The CDC expects Omicron variant cases to continue to increase without the severity that COVID-19 brought this time last year. The CDC research suggests not all cases will be severe and many people could be asymptomatic, thus the quarantine and isolation periods can be shortened.  

Who qualifies to leave isolation after five days?

People need to isolate once they test positive for COVID-19.  Until Monday, the CDC had recommended that individuals who received a positive COVID-19 test or diagnosis to isolate for 10 days. Now the CDC recommends individuals who test positive and remain asymptomatic to isolate for five days followed by a strict, five-day mask-use period. The mask must be a well-fitting mask to be worn around all others for at least 10 days after exposure. 

The new CDC guidance even allows symptomatic individuals to leave isolation after five days if symptoms have resolved, but they should continue wearing a mask or face covering when around others for an additional five days.  If a person has a fever, they should continue to stay home until the fever resolves.

Who qualifies to leave quarantine after five days?

The CDC had previously recommended that individuals identified as a close contact quarantine for 14 days after exposure. The CDC has now updated guidelines to allow exposed individuals to cease quarantine after five days, regardless of vaccination status, so long as masks or face coverings can be worn for an additional five days.  People who have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster, or have completed the primary series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the last six months, or the J&J vaccine within the last two months, need only wear a mask for 10 days and should test on day five, if possible.

How is the five-day period calculated?

It has been difficult for employers to keep up with the ever-changing guidance from the CDC including how to count the days for quarantine or isolation purposes. The CDC recently changed its definitions. To calculate a five-day isolation period, the CDC’s guidance now states day zero is the day one’s symptoms began, and day one is the first full day after symptoms developed. If an individual must quarantine, day zero is the day of initial exposure and day one is the first full day after exposure.

What does this mean for employers?

Employers should remember that the CDC guidance provides recommendations only. Where there are more stringent requirements, the more stringent requirements should be followed.  The CDC guidance does not affect OSHA regulations or state or local rules unless specific language indicates that the jurisdiction intends to follow CDC guidance.  Despite the CDC’s new isolation and quarantine recommendations, employers should look to OSHA or their state or local health departments to determine if they’ve adopted the new recommendations. Employers should also stay apprised of the new recommendations as we navigate the next few weeks to determine how they will be incorporated into the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) Federal and State plans.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.