The Five-Day Rule: CDC Updates on COVID-19 Guidelines

As COVID-19 infection numbers continue to surge, the CDC released updated guidelines addressing the changing understanding of the Omicron variant. In a media statement issued on December 27, 2021, the CDC noted that the majority of COVID-19 transmissions happen earlier in the illness, typically prior to symptoms and two to three days after. The CDC addressed changes for both individuals exposed to COVID-19 (quarantine guidelines) and for individuals who contracted COVID-19 (isolation guidelines.) Vaccination is relevant only for quarantine requirements.

Quarantine guidelines: These guidelines differ by vaccination status. Those vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna within the last six months, or with Johnson & Johnson in the last two months, or those “boosted” no longer have any seclusion requirement. Instead, if no symptoms emerge, individuals should wear a mask for ten days around others and test on day five.

For those not vaccinated, or not meeting the requirements of the above paragraph, the CDC recommends quarantine for five days. After five days of seclusion, individuals should continue to wear a mask around others for ten days and obtain a test on day five. Once again, if any symptoms develop, the CDC recommends seclusion and testing.

Isolation guidelines: This applies for those who test positive for COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status. The CDC reduced the period of recommended seclusion from ten days to five days. After these five days, the individual should continue to wear a mask around others for another five days. However, if COVID-19 symptoms such as a fever develop, the individual should stay at home until this is resolved.

The take-way from these changes is that employees need not be excluded from the workplace for the lengthier periods of time under the prior guidance. Five days is now the maximum required for seclusion, and only under certain circumstances. Mask wearing and monitoring for potential symptoms remain important for employers to implement in reducing transmission in the workplace.

Employers should modify their COVID-19 policies to conform with these updated recommendations.

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