Thursday, April 9, 2020

Coronavirus Update 4-9-2020: CDC issues new guidelines for the return of essential workers to work after a coronavirus exposure

Last night, the Center for Disease Control issued new guidelines for when an essential employer should permit a critical infrastructure employee to return to work after a coronavirus exposure (defined as a household contact or having close contact within 6 feet of an individual with confirmed or suspected coronavirus for up to 48 hours before the individual became symptomatic).

The guidelines are a substantial departure from how I’ve been advising my clients for the past month.

Previously, I have recommended that symptom-free employees stay out of work at least 14 days from their last known exposure.

The CDC now recommends, however, that an asymptomatic employee can return to work as long as they are asymptomatic, and follow the following steps:

  • Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
  • As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
  • The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.
  • The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
  • Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.

Additionally, the CDC reminds employers to immediately send home any employee who becomes sick during the workday, after which workspace surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected. The CDC also recommends contact tracing of people with whom the sick employee came in contact (within six feet) during the time the employee had symptoms and 2 days prior.

I am not in love with this new guidance. Science tells us that one can be a silent, asymptomatic carrier for up to 14 days without presenting any symptoms. This new recommendation ignores this science and brings people back to work as soon as possible. It is, in essence, injecting potential viral timebombs into an essential workplace. If that timebomb explodes, that essential business will have to shut down. Why not follow the science and the medicine and remove these employees from the workplace for the previously recommended 14 days? That way, when they return they will do so with some degree of scientific confidence that they are not carrying this virus and potentially infecting the entire business.

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I'll be discussing this new guidance, along with open issues relating to paid sick leave and eFMLA under the FFCRA live on Zoom from 11:30 - 12:30 today. Registration is required, which you can do here:

* Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash