The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) is a federal agency providing guidance regarding the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The CDC has issued updated guidance on a daily basis as the pandemic and scientific research have developed. Below are three key recent developments that relate to employers planning to reopen their workplaces.

1. Reopening Guidance

In mid-May, the CDC began issuing guidance regarding the reopening of businesses. Specifically, the CDC issued guidance on reopening workplaces, restaurants and bars, schools, child care programs, camps, and mass transit systems.

The reopening guidance comes in the form of flow charts to be used as a tool to assist employers in making reopening decisions during the pandemic, especially to protect vulnerable workers. The factors considered among the different sectors are largely duplicative. Below is a summary of the guidance for general workplaces:

• Should you consider opening? The questions to consider are whether reopening will be consistent with applicable state and local orders, and whether the business is ready to protect employees at higher risk for severe illness. If the answer to either of those questions is no, the business should not open.

• Are recommended health and safety actions in place? The guidance identifies an assortment of safeguards and health and safety protocols that an employer should implement, including encouraging social distancing and enhanced spacing between employees, encouraging telework, and if feasible, intensify cleaning, disinfection, and ventilation. If any of the listed factors are not met, the business should meet the safeguards first before reopening.

• Is ongoing monitoring in place? The guidance identifies several ongoing processes that businesses should implement, including developing and implementing procedures to check for signs and symptoms of employees daily upon arrival, encouraging anyone who is sick to stay home, and be ready to consult with local health authorities if there are cases in the facility or an increase in cases in the local area. If a business does not have this monitoring in place it should meet the safeguards first before reopening.

According to the CDC guidance, if a workplace is able to meet these requirements, the business may reopen, while continuing to monitor the situation. In addition to the reopening flow charts, the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) have jointly developed guidance for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces, workplaces, businesses, schools, and homes.

2. When Sick Employees May Return To Work

The CDC recently provided guidance for when an employee suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 may return to work. The CDC provides two options for when employees with COVID-19 who have stayed home can stop home isolation and return to work: (1) symptom-based strategy; and (2) test-based strategy. Under the symptom-based strategy, persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue home isolation and return to work under the following conditions: (a) at least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery, defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications; (b) improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and (c) at least ten days have passed since symptoms first appeared. It is important to note that the CDC revised this guidance on May 3, 2020. Previously, the guidance called for only seven days to have passed since symptoms first appeared, which was subsequently extended to ten days.

Under the test-based strategy, persons who have COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue home isolation and return to work under the following conditions: (i) resolution of fever, without use of fever-reducing medication; (ii) improvement in respiratory symptoms; and (iii) negative results of COVID-19 tests from at least two consecutive tests collected more than 24 hours apart. While the CDC provides the test-based strategy as an option, it recommends that employers should not require sick employee to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or healthcare provider’s note to return to work.

3. Face Coverings

At the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC did not recommend that individuals wear face coverings. However, in early April, the CDC reversed course and issued guidance recommending that individuals wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. This is to protect other people if the wearer is infected but does not have symptoms. The CDC has integrated this guidance into its guidance for employers, recommending that employers encourage employees to wear cloth face coverings in the workplace, if appropriate. Because many local jurisdictions have mandated that individuals wear a face covering when in certain community settings, employers should consult their legal counsel to determine what, if any, local requirements exist. Employers should determine whether they must supply face coverings for employees who are subject to such rules.

This is just an overview of three of the CDC’s recent developments relevant to employers. An expanded overview of CDC guidance, and other guidance relevant to COVID-19, are available in Castle Publications’ new publication, the Employer’s Guide To COVID-19 And Emerging Workplace Issues. The publication is available electronically and will be updated during 2020 to address new laws, orders, and new and updated guidance from key state and federal agencies.

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