CDC Announces New Quarantine Guidelines for Close Contact with a Positive COVID Case
On December 2, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it is revising its guidelines for people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. Now, instead of the standard 14-day quarantine that it has been recommending, the CDC says that close contact exposure warrants a quarantine of 7 or 10 days, depending on an individual’s test results and symptoms. Close contact currently is defined by the CDC as spending 15 or more cumulative minutes within six feet of a person with COVID-19 over a period of 24 hours, either masked or unmasked.
While the CDC emphasizes that the original 14-day quarantine period after a close contact remains best, the revised guidelines now allow for the following alternative quarantine periods, provided that the individual remains symptom-free:
- after day 10 following close contact; or
- after day 7 following close contact, with a negative test taken within 48 hours of the final day of quarantine (i.e., at least 5 days following close contact).
For both the 10-day and 7-day alternatives, the CDC states that daily symptom monitoring and mitigation strategies – including correct and consistent mask use, social distancing, hand and cough hygiene, environmental cleaning and disinfection, avoidance of crowds, and adequate indoor ventilation – should continue through day 14 following close contact. The CDC also states that the 7-day alternative should be used only when the use of tests to discontinue a quarantine will not have an impact on community diagnostic testing.
If an individual develops symptoms during the 14-day, 10-day or 7-day quarantine period, he or she should be treated as a positive/presumed-positive case, isolate, and be subject to all relevant health guidelines. In that regard, the CDC currently states that, in most cases, symptomatic individuals may discontinue home isolation and return to work only after the following has occurred: 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms; COVID-19 symptoms have ceased (except for the loss of taste or smell, which may last for some time and should not preclude the end of isolation/return to work); and the individual is fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication. Isolation periods may be longer for individuals who are severely immunocompromised or as determined by medical providers.
Given this new guidance, some employers may wish to reassess their close contact quarantine policies. However, in light of the CDC’s continued emphasis that a 14-day quarantine period is best, many employers may decide to leave that quarantine time period in place.
When in doubt about the appropriate course of action, employers should consult with experienced human resources professionals and/or labor and employment counsel. For MEA members, the Hotline and a Member Legal Services attorney are available to provide this assistance.
Amy G. McAndrew, Esquire
Director of Legal and Compliance Services
MidAtlantic Employers’ Association
*This Alert is provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.