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.
Given the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases and the spread of the Omicron variant, the Puerto Rico Department of Health (PR DOH) implemented, through an amendment to the Case Investigation and Contact Tracing Guidelines (Guidelines), new quarantine measures that differ from those imposed by Executive Order 2021-075. While the PR DOH has yet to publish the official amended Guidelines, the agency has held press conferences and issued letters explaining the new quarantine measures.
The new changes made by the amendment to the Guidelines affect: (1) nonvaccinated individuals, (2) individuals who have yet to complete their vaccination series, (3) fully vaccinated individuals,1 and (4) individuals who have received a booster shot.2 Specifically, the amendment provides guidance regarding the requirements each of these groups must observe if they have been in close contact3 with a confirmed case of COVID-19.4 Notably, the PR DOH has specifically stated that new CDC guidelines reducing quarantine periods are not being adopted in Puerto Rico.
The new quarantine measures are as follows:
- Non-vaccinated individuals or those who have yet to complete their vaccination series must stay in quarantine for a period of 14 days. They also must get tested5 after the fifth day following exposure to the virus. If the test result is negative, they must continue to monitor symptoms of COVID-19 and may return to the public on the 15th day after exposure.
- Completely vaccinated individuals, or those with the booster shot but without the 14-day period having elapsed, must quarantine for a period of seven days. They also must get tested6 after the fifth day following exposure to the virus. If the test result is negative, they must continue to monitor symptoms of COVID-19 and may return to the public on the eighth day after exposure.
- Individuals who live with a confirmed case of COVID-19 must begin their respective quarantine period, depending on their vaccination status,7 after the isolation period ends for the individual with COVID-19.
It is important to note that while the PR DOH amended quarantine measures, it did not amend isolation measures for individuals who test positive for COVID-19. Individuals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 must continue to follow isolation measures established in Executive Order 2021-075. Isolation measures for individuals with COVID-19 are as follows:
- Individuals must be in isolation for a period of 10 days since the onset of symptoms, or since the first testing sample was taken and upon a subsequent positive test result for that sample for asymptomatic individuals. These individuals may only end isolation if they meet all of the following criteria: (1) at least 10 days have elapsed since symptom onset or since the first sample was taken and upon a subsequent positive test result from that sample, for asymptomatic individuals; (2) there is no fever (without using anti-fever medications) within the last 24 hours, and; and (3) there is an improvement in other symptoms associated with COVID-19.
On December 23, 2021, the PR DOH circulated a letter internally, which established nine categories of individuals who are exempt from complying with the new limited quarantine period for vaccinated individuals. Individuals who work, reside, or belong in any of the following categories are those exempt from the quarantine provisions for vaccinated individuals: medical professionals (hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies, medical officer or clinics); older adult care centers; facilities associated with the penal system; travelers who are not Puerto Rico residents; shelters for homeless people; K-12 grade schools; security personnel (police, firefighters, soldiers); people associated with the food distribution chain, banking, hospitality and accommodation services; and individuals who have received the booster shot.
With cases of COVID-19 still rising in light of the Omicron variant, employers must stay vigilant to any developments, since the Puerto Rico Department of Health is continuously monitoring the situation and implementing new measures and guidelines to deal with the spread.
1 “Completely vaccinated” means that a 14-day period has passed from an individual’s receiving their second dose from a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) or after receiving their only dose from single-dose vaccine (J&J). “Completely vaccinated” also includes individuals who have received the booster shot, but 14 days have yet not passed since the inoculation.
2 A 14-day period must of have passed since inoculation with the booster shot to be considered an individual who has received the booster shot.
3 As per the PR DOH, “close contact” means contact without social distancing and without face masks for more than 15 minutes.
4 These new quarantine requirements are effective as of December 18, 2021, and until further notice.
5 Home test kits are not allowed; results must be confirmed by an FDA-approved molecular or antigen test processed by a healthcare professional.
6 Home test kits are not allowed; results must be confirmed by an FDA-approved molecular or antigen test processed by a healthcare professional.
7 Individuals who have received the booster shot are not exempt from quarantine under this scenario due to their constant exposure to the virus.