The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued new guidance titled “Duration of Isolation and Precautions for Adults with COVID-19.” The guidance is noteworthy for employers. Previously, the CDC had generally indicated that individuals could potentially return to work following a positive test after spending 14 days in isolation and being fever-free for 48 hours without the aid of medication. The agency now recommends a symptom-based, rather than a testing-based, strategy for ending the isolation if current evidence suggests the individuals are no longer infectious. Let’s take a closer look.
According to the CDC, reliable data now shows:
- Most persons infected with COVID-19 (i.e., those with mild to moderate symptoms) are no longer infectious 10 days after the first onset of symptoms; and
- Individuals with a more severe or critical illness are no longer contagious after 20 days following the first onset of symptoms.
Based on the data, the agency says there is justification for shortening the isolation period measured from the onset of symptoms so that those who are no longer infectious “are not kept unnecessarily isolated and excluded from work or other responsibilities.”
Thus, the CDC now recommends persons with COVID-19 who have only mild to moderate symptoms can end their isolation and other precautions 10 days after symptoms first present themselves and they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the aid of medication. For those with more serious illness, the agency recommends they can end their isolation and other precautions 20 days after symptoms first present themselves and they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the aid of medication. For persons who never develop symptoms, isolation and other precautions can be ended 10 days after a positive test.
Notably, the CDC also indicates testing is no longer needed to determine whether isolation and the other precautions can be terminated, except when an individual is seeking to end them earlier than 10 or 20 days or is severely immunocompromised.
For persons previously diagnosed with symptomatic COVID-19 who remain asymptomatic after recovery, the CDC does not recommend (1) retesting within three months of the onset of symptoms or (2) quarantining in the event of close contact with an infected person. For persons who develop new symptoms within three months after initial symptom onset, the agency said retesting can be considered, but it recommends consultation with an infectious disease or infection control expert.
Finally, the CDC continues to take the position that “serologic testing should not be used to establish the presence or absence of SARS-CoV-2 infection or reinfection.”
As many states, including Mississippi, continue to let businesses reopen, more employers are facing the reality of trying to minimize COVID-19 in the workplace and managing employee absences in the event of positive tests and exposure. While the CDC guidance doesn’t change best practices for employers, the new symptom-based approach does reduce lost work time for those with mild to moderate symptoms.
The CDC’s guidance also removes the hurdle of COVID-19 retesting and associated wait time for results, which in some Mississippi communities remained fairly long and extended past even the agency’s recommended quarantine period.
Martin J. Regimbal, a shareholder of The Kullman Firm, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also contributing to the article was Stephen L Scott, an attorney at the firm, who can be reached at email@example.com.