On December 2, 2020, the CDC updated its guidance on COVID-19 quarantines. Previously, the CDC advised that asymptomatic individuals should quarantine for 14 days after their last exposure to someone who has COVID-19. The CDC’s prior guidance did not allow for the reduction of that 14-day period based on the receipt of a negative COVID-19 test. It also did not address quarantine periods following travel absent an exposure event. In its most recent guidance, the CDC now recommends two options for how long quarantine should last following exposure. Additionally, in related statements, the CDC has also stated that the same protocols should extend to all general travel activity.

Under the new CDC guidance, the recommended quarantine period after last exposure or general travel activity is now 10 days for asymptomatic individuals. An individual can shorten that period to 7 days if they test negative for COVID-19 during the period 3-5 days after exposure or travel.  Importantly, the optimal timing for testing remains unsettled. The recent CDC guidance allows for either molecular (regular) or antigen (rapid) testing to be used to end quarantine. The travel portion of the CDC’s new guidance extends to all travel activity, though it is anticipated that it will be better defined by the CDC in coming weeks.

This announcement may directly impact several significant employer COVID-19 policies, including policies concerning screening; contact tracing; inquiries into employees’ COVID-19 test results; return-to-work; and employee travel. For example:

  • When contract tracing, employers should consider revising policies to ask who an infected employee had contact with in the past 10 days rather than the last 14 days.
  • Policies that only allow inquiries into whether an employee had a positive test result can be revised to inquire about negative results when an asymptomatic employee has travelled or been designated for quarantine. Importantly, Employers must treat negative test results like confidential medical information.
  • Absent any state or local law restrictions, employers can revise their return-to-work policies consistent with the new CDC guidance to allow employees to terminate quarantine using the shorter periods.
  • To date, employees traveling for personal or business reasons have not been required to quarantine automatically upon their return in states that do not have COVID-19 travel restrictions in place. In those less regulated jurisdictions, employers must now consider whether to create policies requiring quarantine after travel consistent with the CDC guidelines.

In light of these significant changes, employers are strongly encouraged to take this latest development as an opportunity to review their larger COVID-19 policy framework to ensure it is fully compliant with this change the long the list of other changes that emerged in recent weeks.

If you have any questions about the CDC’s new quarantine protocol or how it affects your company, Reed Smith’s experienced Labor & Employment Group is ready to speak with you.