I’m So Confused! Just How Long Does Your COVID-19-Exposed Employee Have to Quarantine?Just when you thought you had the rules down for when and how long an employee has to quarantine, the CDC changes the rules. Or has it? In its guidance, When You Can Be Around Others After You Had or Likely Had COVID-19 (updated on December 1, 2020), the CDC hasn’t really changed its tune. As we read it, 14 days is still the gold standard:

Anyone who has had close contact with someone with COVID-19 should stay home for 14 days after their last exposure to that person. . .  The best way to protect yourself and others is to stay home for 14 days if you think you’ve been exposed to someone who has COVID-19. Check your local health department’s website for information about options in your area to possibly shorten this quarantine period.

In its When to Quarantine Guidance (updated December 8, 2020), the CDC talks about maybe reducing the length of quarantine in some situations to “make it easier for people to quarantine by reducing the time they cannot work” and perhaps to “lessen stress on the public health system.” Ultimately, the CDC reminds everyone that local public health authorities look at local conditions and needs and make the recommendations you should follow. CDC suggestions about when someone who has not developed symptoms could consider stopping quarantine before 14 days from exposure are (1) after day 10 without testing or (2) after day seven after receiving a negative test result (test must occur on day five or later).

In short, this is complicated. When faced with this issue, you need to check recent guidance from the CDC (updated December 2, 2020) and your local health department. Cautious employers may want to stick with the 14-day quarantine. If this is a problem for you or your employees and you want to consider shortening the time a little, talk to your employee who has been exposed and find out this information:

  • Positive Test or Symptoms. Has the employee tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibited symptoms? If so, the employee should not come to work for at least 10 days after the positive test, but also not before she or he is symptom-free without medication. Be clear that the employee cannot return to work until she or he is no longer taking medication and continues to be symptom-free. Suggest that your employee follow the doctor’s orders.
  • Negative Test/No Symptoms. Has the employee had a negative test for COVID-19 (and the test was at least five days after the exposure)? If so, he or she can return to work seven days after the negative test. Again, only if the employee is symptom-free.
  • No Test/No Symptoms. If the employee has not been tested (or had a negative test too early, i.e., in that five-day window) and still has no symptoms, she or he can return to work after 10 days.

If you just aren’t sure, follow your local health department guidance.