CDC, OSHA Updates Ease COVID-19 Guidance and Recommendations

Author: Robert S. Teachout, Brightmine Legal Editor

December 30, 2021

The CDC announced it has shortened its recommended COVID-19 isolation and quarantine periods, while OSHA updated its FAQs on allowing employees who choose not to be vaccinated to self-administer over-the-counter (OTC) COVID tests to comply with the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) testing requirements.

CDC Quarantine and Isolation Guidance

On Monday, the CDC shortened the recommended isolation and quarantine periods for persons infected with COVID-19 or who have been in close contact with an infected person. Isolation relates to behavior after a confirmed infection; quarantine refers to the period following exposure to the virus or close contact with someone known to have COVID-19.

The isolation period is reduced from 10 to five days for persons with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic, followed by five days of wearing a mask. Infected persons with symptoms or who have not been fever-free for at least two days must still isolate for 10 days. The updated isolation period applies regardless of a person's vaccination status.

Persons exposed to COVID should wear a mask when they are around others for 10 days, but do not need to quarantine if they:

  • Have received a booster shot; or
  • Completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the last six months; or
  • Completed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the last two months.

Otherwise, an individual exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for five days, followed by wearing a mask for five days. Those who cannot quarantine should wear a mask for 10 days when around others.

In all cases, the CDC recommends that those in isolation or quarantining get tested on the fifth day, if possible.

The CDC stated that changes are motivated by science showing that the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally up to two days before symptoms appear and three days after. "CDC's updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses," said CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. "These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives."

For employers, these changes mean that an asymptomatic employee with COVID-19 need only be isolated and away from work for five days, and fully vaccinated and boosted employees who are exposed to or in close contact with someone with COVID can avoid quarantine and missing work.

OSHA Guidance on Self Testing

Under the current compliance dates for the OSHA ETS, employees of covered employers who choose not to get vaccinated must undergo weekly testing and wear a face covering instead of getting vaccinated beginning February 9, 2022. In Part 6 of its FAQ on COVID-19 testing for employees who are not fully vaccinated, the agency states that tests cannot be "both self-administered and self-read "unless observed by the employer or an authorized telehealth proctor."

In the updated FAQ, OSHA now states that OTC tests that feature digital reporting of date and time stamped results are not considered to be "self-read" and therefore observation by the employer or an authorized telehealth proctor is not required.

Although the stay on the ETS was lifted by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, it is pending review by the Supreme Court, with hearings set for January 7, just days before the January 10 enforcement date set by OSHA. In the meantime, employers still should be aware of and follow state requirements regarding vaccine mandates and exemptions.