CDC Issues Revised Guidance on Returning to Work After Isolation

  • Jul 29, 2020
  • COVID-19
  • Colin H. Hargreaves

Last week the CDC updated the criteria relating to when an employee may return to work. They issued their new criteria in their Guidance entitled Discontinuation of Isolation for Persons with COVID-19 Not in Healthcare Settings which applies to persons who have mild to moderate illness and are recovering at home.

As we noted in our earlier article The Employer’s Guide to Returning to Work During COVID-19 (Part 2), there are two methods to determine when a person who contracted COVID-19 (or who has COVID-19 symptoms) may discontinue home isolation and return to work: (1) the symptoms-based strategy, and (2) the test-based strategy. The CDC’s guidance updated the requirements for the symptoms-based strategy, while also stating that it no longer recommends using the test-based strategy (Option 2 in our earlier blog piece).

New Standards

Now, a person with COVID-19 symptoms may discontinue home isolation and return to work after meeting the following:

1) At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared, AND

2) At least 24 hours have passed since the person’s last fever without the use of fever reducing medications, AND

3) The person’s symptoms have improved.

Prior to this new guidance, a person had to wait 72 hours after their last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and the person’s respiratory symptoms had to improve specifically (compared to a general improvement in symptoms). As such, this guidance effectively allows employees to return to work much faster than before.

However, the CDC also cautioned that some people with severe forms of COVID-19 may be able to spread the virus beyond 10 days. As such, the CDC recommends extending the duration of isolation for up to 20 days after symptom onset.

The CDC’s updated guidance follows its earlier Decision Memo regarding updated research on the transmissibility of the virus.

Bottom Line

While there may be exceptions in certain cases (i.e., severe infections), the CDC’s new guidance allows employees to safely return to work much faster than before.

This update marks the fifth time that the CDC has updated its counsel on discontinuing home isolation. Thus, we may expect even more guidance from them in the coming weeks as more research becomes available.