The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) recently revised its guidance surrounding the length of time persons must isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 and the quarantine period for those who were exposed to the virus. In turn, shortly before the New Year, California’s Governor Newsom announced that California’s isolation and quarantine periods would align with the CDC’s guidance. Subsequently, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) issued binding isolation and quarantine rules that reflect such an alignment (here).
What should employers know?
Looking at the big picture, the CDPH rules deal with two scenarios: (1) when an individual tests positive for COVID-19 and (2) when an individual is suspected to be “exposed” to COVID-19 but has not necessarily tested positive for COVID-19.
A. CDPH’s Rules for When an Individual Tests Positive for COVID-19
CDPH’s rules are clear on what should happen when an individual tests positive for COVID-19. That individual should remain at home and isolate from others for a period of at least 5 days—regardless of their vaccination status. On the 5th day (or after), the individual should take a COVID-19 test. If that test is negative, that individual can end his or her isolation and return to work—provided that they wear a well-fitted mask around others for a total of 10 days.
(As an aside, a COVID-19 positive individual can end their isolation after a period of 10 days if that individual is unable to test, or elects not to test, for COVID-19.)
B. CDPH’s Rules for When an Individual Has Been “Exposed” to COVID-19
The rules for treating an individual who has been exposed to COVID-19, by contrast, are more complex and depend on whether an individual is vaccinated (or not), boosted (or not), or otherwise eligible to receive a COVID-19 booster shot (booster eligibility is outlined in the chart here.) While the rules do not allow for neat, elegant summaries, we can break them down into four basic scenarios:
Scenario 1: The person who was exposed to COVID-19 had received a COVID-19 booster shot before his or her COVID-19 exposure.
In this case, the CDPH says that the person who was exposed to COVID-19 need not isolate or quarantine from others provided they: (1) wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days (especially indoor settings); (2) take a COVID-19 test on the fifth-day following their initial exposure; and (3) remain asymptomatic.
In the event that the COVID-19 test turns out positive, the individual must follow the rules mentioned in section A above. In the event symptoms develop, the individual must test and stay at home.
Scenario 2: The person who was exposed to COVID-19 was not yet booster-eligible before their COVID-19 exposure.
In this case, apply the same rules from Scenario 1 above.
Scenario 3: The person who was exposed to COVID-19 was unvaccinated before their exposure to COVID-19.
In this case, the CDPH says that the individual must: (1) stay at home for at least 5 days after the exposure; (2) take a COVID-19 test on the fifth day (or later); and (3) wear a well-fitted mask around others for a total of 10 days. Should the COVID-19 test turn out negative, the individual can stop his or her isolation/quarantine period if the individual has not developed any COVID-19 symptoms.
Again, if the individual tests positive for COVID-19, the individual must follow the rules mentioned in section A above. And, again, if symptoms develop, the individual must test and stay at home.
Scenario 4: The person who was exposed to COVID-19 was booster-eligible but did not yet receive their booster shot before their exposure to COVID-19:
In this case, apply the same rules as from Scenario 3 above.
What about the Cal/OSHA ETS?
Employers have been asking us if the CDPH’s recent rules affect the isolation and quarantine periods contained in Cal/OSHA’s ETS. The short answer is: Yes. While, as of the date of publication of this blog post, Cal/OSHA’s time periods have not been explicitly amended, employers should not worry about that too much. However, employers should have employees who return to work after isolation or quarantine maintain six feet of social distance for a minimum of 10-14 days to follow the Cal/OSHA ETS.
The COVID-19 landscape is evolving rapidly and quickly at a dizzying speed, but CDPH’s new rules may help alleviate staff shortages by expediting an employee’s return-to-work date or, alternatively, permitting an employee to remain at work even after being exposed to COVID-19. In each case, the determination is highly fact-specific and should be guided/developed in conjunction with your legal counsel. Employers still need to review their local quarantine and isolation periods which could be more restrictive.
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This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between MNK Law and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material.