December 04, 2020

COVID-19: CDC Releases New Guidelines for Quarantine

On December 1, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new federal guidelines for the recommended length of quarantine after possible exposure to COVID-19.  Previously, the CDC generally required that potentially exposed individuals quarantine for 14 days (subject to more specific guidance relative to symptoms and testing).  The CDC will now permit a lesser period of quarantine in some circumstances. 

Specifically, the new guidance offers two alternative options to a 14 day quarantine. The first allows for quarantine to end after day 10 if (1) no testing has been performed, and (2) no symptoms have been reported.  The second allows for quarantine to end after day 7 if the individual has tested negative for COVD-19 within 48 hours before quarantine discontinuation (for example, at some point after day 5 if the individual plans to end quarantine after day 7).  These two alternative options are permitted ONLY if:

  • The individual does not develop symptoms at any time during the quarantine period;
  • The individual continues to monitor symptoms during the entire 14 day post-exposure period and remains symptom-free during that period; and
  • The individual is counseled to strictly adhere to all mitigation efforts after quarantine ends (mask use, reporting of symptoms, return to isolation, etc.) through the 14th day.

This new guidance attempts to balance disease prevention with pragmatic concerns.  To be clear, the CDC emphasized that individuals can develop COVID-19 up to 14 days after exposure, and that a full 14 day quarantine period remains the best option to prevent the spread of the disease.  However, updated studies suggest that the risk of transmitting the disease from days 11-14 after the exposure appears relatively low (the post-quarantine transmission risk is “small, but non-zero,” roughly around 1%, but possibly up to 10%).  The numbers are similar for those that receive a negative test and quarantine for only 7 days (the post-quarantine transmission risk is about 5%, but potentially up to 12%).  As such, the reduction in the quarantine length on a systemic basis should not lead to a significant increase in COVID-19 spread as compared to a full quarantine.  The small increased risk is balanced by allowing more individuals to leave quarantine earlier and resume normal activity.  A secondary intent is that a reduced quarantine period may result in a higher rate of compliance by the public. 

Even with the shortened quarantine options, individuals and business must still remain vigilant in taking all necessary precautions to mitigate transmission and monitor for symptoms for the full 14 days after exposure, as it remains the safest option. Furthermore, the CDC guidance does not supplant or supersede existing state and local health guidance (“Local public health authorities determine and establish the quarantine options for their jurisdictions”).  Employers, in every state are expected to notify all employees of the new CDC guidance and its intended application to state, and local guidelines to ensure compliance.

By way of example, Pennsylvania employers must continue to abide by the guidance and orders of the Governor and the PA Dept. of Health.  The PA DOH continues to recommend a full 14 day quarantine period after potential exposure.  Furthermore, both the Governor and DOH have instituted orders requiring a 14 day period of quarantine after travel out-of-state (unless a negative test is produced).  These are not affected by the new CDC guidance.  Therefore, the PA DOH guidance should continue to be followed while it remains in effect for Pennsylvania businesses.

Businesses must endeavor to have a deliberate policy and procedure in place for handling exposure and quarantine.  The new guidance offered by the CDC will not prevent all transmission of the disease, and allowing for a reduced period of quarantine may still risk employees becoming exposed to the disease.  The new CDC guidance provides alternatives to shorten the quarantine period, but in doing so places greater responsibility on employers to establish the respective criteria for utilizing those shortened periods.  The choice between options cannot be made arbitrarily.  The safest option for many employers may be to continue to utilize a standard 14 day quarantine period.  However, there may be a legitimate business reason do to specific business practice or position to utilize one of the shortened quarantine options.  In such instances, employers should document their policy, the reason behind the policy, and their efforts to monitor appropriate compliance.  Our Employment Law Group remains available to answer any questions and provide guidance as necessary. 

Please contact our Employment Law Group for assistance at 1-888-488-2638.