October 20, 2022 Article

Another Reminder to Update Policies and Procedures to Reflect Latest COVID-19 Guidance

We last updated you in early August regarding the latest COVID-19 quarantine and isolation guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”).  Cold and flu season is now upon us, and experts are predicting that emerging variants and waning immunity are likely to lead to resurgent infection rates.  We have also observed more lawsuits filed against Maine employers related to COVID-19 as well as continued Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) inspections nationwide resulting in COVID-19-related violations and penalties.

To promote a safe and healthy workplace and to stave off claims or citations, we recommend dusting off your COVID-19 workplace policies to verify that they are consistent with the latest health and safety guidelines.

Below is a summary of the current general guidance from CDC.  As a reminder, there is different guidance that applies in healthcare settings.

Biggest Change in CDC Guidance

  1. Quarantine for exposed unvaccinated individuals is no longer recommended.
  2. Length of isolation for COVID-positive individuals is based on severity of symptoms.

Exposure

CDC no longer recommends post-exposure quarantine for anyone, regardless of vaccination status. All individuals who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 are recommended to wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day 5.

Isolation

Isolation is used to separate people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 from others. During isolation, individuals should refrain from travel and stay home and away from other people in the home.

Scenario Guidance
Vaccinated or unvaccinated individual has COVID-19. Individual should isolate.
Vaccinated or unvaccinated individual is sick and suspects COVID-19 but does not yet have test results. Individual should isolate.
If test result is negative Individual should isolate.
If test result is positive Individual should continue isolating.

Calculating the Isolation Period

Scenario

Starting Isolation Ending Isolation
COVID-positive individual has no symptoms.

Day 0 of isolation is the day the individual was tested (not the day of positive test result).

Day 1 is the first full day after the individual's symptoms started.

Isolation ends after Day 5.
COVID-positive individual has symptoms.

Day 0 of isolation is the day of symptom onset, regardless of when the individual tested positive.

Day 1 is the first full day after the individual's symptoms started

Isolation ends after Day 5, if the individual's symptoms are improving and the individual has been fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever reducing medication).

Unless...

The individual experiences moderate illness (shortness of breath or difficulty breathing), then isolation extends through Day 10.

If individual experienced severe illness (i.e., hospitalization) or has a weakened immune system, then individual needs to isolate through Day 10 and consult a doctor before ending isolation.

*If COVID-19 symptoms recur or worsen after isolation has ended, isolation must be restarted at day 0.

Post-Isolation Masking and Testing

After isolation has ended, individuals should wear a mask through day 10. Masks may be removed sooner than day 10 if an individual obtains two sequential negative antigen tests 48 hours apart.

Risks of Noncompliance

Complying with CDC guidance is the best way for employers to protect themselves from lawsuits if an employee contracts COVID-19 at work as a result of a close contact with a co-worker who should not have been in the workplace. In addition to workers compensation claims, negligence claims could also be pursued by customers, vendors, suppliers, or employee family members who contract COVID-19 as a result of a close contact with an employee who should not have been at work.

Further, OSHA looks to CDC guidance to evaluate what employers should be doing to keep the workplace safe and failure to conform policies and practices to CDC guidance could result in OSHA general duty clause citations.  OSHA conducted 62 COVID-19-related inspections in August and September and issued penalties following 42 of those inspections—11 of which were in New England.  Penalty amounts ranged from ~$1,00 to $125,340.

Best Practices

Employers should stay abreast of CDC guidance and modify COVID-19 policies and procedures accordingly. The latest guidance is available here.  

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