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CDC’s New Shorter Quarantine Period is Welcome News for Those Who Got COVID for Christmas

December 28 - Posted at 7:41 AM Tagged: , , , , , ,

The CDC announced on December 27th that it is updating its quarantine and isolation guidance. For people with COVID-19, the isolation period was reduced from ten days to five days as long as the individual has no symptoms or their symptoms are resolving after five days. Importantly, the revised isolation guidance does not recommend an individual have a negative COVID-19 test before ending their isolation period after day 5.

For people who have been exposed through close contact with someone infected with COVID-19, whether an individual is recommended to quarantine is no longer dependent on vaccination status alone.  Rather, whether quarantine is recommended now also depends on whether an individual has received a booster and how long it has been since an individual completed their vaccination series.  For people who are unvaccinated or received their second mRNA dose (Pfizer or Moderna) more than 6 months ago or the J&J vaccine more than 2 months ago, and have not received a booster shot, the CDC now recommends quarantine for 5 days, followed by 5 days of masking. For people who have received their booster shot or who have recently completed their primary vaccine series, the CDC does not recommend such individuals quarantine following an exposure, but the CDC does recommend they wear a mask around others for 10 days.

The CDC also recommends that everyone who has been exposed to COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, be tested on day 5 following the exposure if possible. Finally, everyone who either has COVID-19 or was exposed to someone with COVID-19 should wear a well-fitted mask for a full 10 days.

Employers should review their COVID-19 policies and protocols, communicate any changes to their employees and be prepared to answer employees’ questions. Employers are reminded to consider states and local health authorities which may have different guidelines.

CDC Issues New Back-to-School Guidance with Emphasis on In-Person Learning

July 20 - Posted at 12:55 PM Tagged: , , , , ,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just substantially relaxed its pandemic guidance for K-12 schools. While certain restrictions remain and the guidance may continue to evolve in the coming months, especially if the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available for younger children, this new guidance provides schools with more information as they plan for the 2021-2022 school year. What do you need to know about this July 9th update?

What Has Changed?

The new CDC guidance has three important changes. First, it clarifies that fully vaccinated employees, staff, and students do not need to wear masks or facial coverings when indoors. Also, masks are not recommended for outdoor use unless your school is in an area of “substantial to high transmission,” and individuals are in crowded settings or engaging in activities that involve “sustained close contact” with others who are not fully vaccinated.

Second, the CDC’s guidance has a strong emphasis on full re-opening with in-person learning, regardless of whether all the prevention strategies can be implemented at your school. For example, the new guidance continues to recommend that students be spaced at least three feet apart, but with a new caveat: If maintaining physical distancing would prevent schools from fully reopening for in-person learning, schools could instead rely on a combination of other strategies like masking, testing, and improved ventilation.

Finally, the CDC strongly urges schools to promote vaccination among eligible students as well as teachers, staff, and household members, which it describes as “one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely resume full operations.”

What Has Not Changed?

The CDC continues to recommend prevention strategies, such as:

  • consistent and correct mask use where appropriate, particularly for unvaccinated individuals;
  • screening testing;
  • enhanced ventilation;
  • promoting handwashing and respiratory etiquette;
  • staying home when sick and getting tested;
  • contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine; and
  • frequent cleaning and disinfection.

What Do These Changes Mean for Schools?

Of course, children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination so elementary students and some middle school students will need to continue to wear masks indoors. Even for students ages 12 and older, schools wanting to go mask-less will have to determine the best way to go about it. Because the masking guidance only applies to fully vaccinated individuals, your school may have an inconsistent patchwork of some employees and students wearing masks while others are not. These inconsistencies may be disruptive, difficult to enforce, and may unintentionally single out those who do not get the vaccine, including for medical or religious reasons.

The CDC seems to be encouraging schools to collect information on vaccine status before allowing employees and students to go mask-less inside. The CDC guidance includes a description of times when school administrators may want to require the universal wearing of masks and this includes when the school lacks a system to monitor the vaccine status of employees and students or if there is difficulty monitoring and enforcing mask policies that are not universal. Therefore, in states where there is no local restriction, discussed more below, schools that want to allow vaccinated employees and students to go mask-less should implement a process to collect information on vaccination status, track that information, and use it to inform their masking and distancing practices.

Local Laws

All schools also have to consider local and state law implications before implementing new policies on vaccinations and masks. For example, Florida private businesses, including schools, are free to establish their own mask policies. However, under the so-called vaccine passport law, Florida schools are prohibited from requiring vaccination documentation for students and parents to enter the campus or receive a service from the school. Nothing in the law prohibits schools from asking that parents and students provide proof of vaccination on a voluntary basis if they want to be mask-less on campus. Some Florida schools, however, are choosing to simply rely on parents’ and students’ representations that they are vaccinated or to ask them to sign an attestation certifying that they have been fully vaccinated because schools are not comfortable asking families for documentary proof of vaccination.

In Texas, meanwhile, while Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting the use of masks in public schools, private schools are also free to implement masking policies at their own discretion. Texas private schools should consider seeking proof of vaccination if they intend to allow vaccinated students and employees to go mask-less. Keep in mind, however, that the Texas legislature passed a bill prohibiting private schools from requiring students be vaccinated. Therefore, requiring vaccinations of all age-appropriate students is not a solution to the inevitable monitoring and enforcement challenges associated with a partially masked student body.

Finally, despite the CDC guidance, California currently still requires students and faculty to wear masks in indoor settings regardless of vaccination status. Schools should expect more guidance from the California Department of Public Health in the next several days.

Conclusion

As schools prepare for the new normal, you should keep up to date with the rapidly changing developments at the federal, state and local level. We will continue to monitor the developing COVID-19 situation and provide updates as appropriate. 

CDC Removes Mask Requirement For Fully Vaccinated In Some Settings – What Should Your Business Do?

May 14 - Posted at 10:11 AM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,

In a surprise move today, CDC followed the lead of the various states that have lifted their masking and physical distancing recommendations. However, CDC’s new recommendations come with a twist. The CDC’s recommendations only apply to fully vaccinated people in non-healthcare settings.  Here’s what your business should consider as it decides whether to “unmask.”

The May 13, 2021 CDC Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People states that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any non-health care setting (except prisons and homeless shelters and public transportation), except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. According to the CDC, prevention measures (including masks and physical distancing) are still recommended for unvaccinated people.

Employers who are interested in relaxing mask requirements in the workplace should first consider the following.

  • Check state and local laws and orders.  If a state executive order or local order requires employers to have employees wear masks or impose physical distancing requirements, employers should follow those rules.  In addition, keep in mind that some states have their own OSHA rules (e.g., VA, MI, CA, OR) or recently enacted laws such as New York’s Hero Act.  Employers must follow all applicable state and local laws and standards regardless of CDC’s relaxed recommendations.
  • OSHA has yet to come out with new guidance and currently recommends that all employees must continue to follow protective measures such as wearing a face mask and remaining physically distant regardless of vaccination status.  However, this guidance was issued on January 29, 2021, so it is now several months old.  It is unclear whether OSHA will change this guidance given the CDC’s position.
  • Determine whether removing mask and physical distancing requirements makes sense given your employee populations and preferences.  Many employees may be reluctant to return to work without masking and physical distancing rules in place.  Assess whether removing such requirements is likely to help or hurt the effort to return employees to work.  Generally, employers can choose to continue to require masks and physical distancing regardless of vaccination status.
  • Consider how removing mask and physical distancing requirements will impact your customers.  You may also want to maintain a consistent practice across all your locations so that you are not dealing with a patchwork of state and local COVID-19 requirements.  To the extent you decide not to relax your requirements, you may need to accommodate customers who have medical conditions that make wearing a mask unsafe.
  • Consider whether it makes sense to continue to require or encourage physical distancing (regardless of masking) until more is learned, for everyone’s comfort and to avoid isolating unvaccinated individuals who may have protected reasons for being unvaccinated or who may fall into a protected classification, or where any isolation or exclusion may set back diversity efforts.  And, of course, if an individual needs an accommodation in connection with masking for religious or medical reasons, engage in the interactive process.
  • Clarify that fully vaccinated employees and customers are permitted to wear masks or face-coverings.
  • Reinforce that employees must respect employee and customer decisions to wear masks and engage in physical distancing regardless of their vaccination status.
  • Avoid actions that would suggest a correlation between vaccination status and mask wearing and/or employee observance of other COVID-19 safety practices.
  • Consider whether and how the company will monitor whether unvaccinated employees are properly wearing masks and engaging in physical distancing practices.  It is lawful to ask employees if they are vaccinated, however, asking employees why they are not vaccinated may implicate the Americans With Disabilities Act.  To enforce such a rule, employers will need to know who is vaccinated. If such information is gathered, the best practice is to treat this information as confidential. Make sure it is securely maintained with limited access.  Employers may also consider having all employees certify that if they are not fully vaccinated they will continue to wear masks and physical distance.
  • If you choose to relax your mask and physical distancing requirements, make clear that fully vaccinated employees should make their own personal decision regarding whether to wear a mask and physically distance at work.  In this manner, if an employee chooses not to wear a mask, it will be the employee who is disclosing his or her vaccinated status.
  • Consider adopting a formal policy or issuing a communication clarifying the company’s policy and position on these issues so that everyone knows your expectations.
  • If you have a union, consider whether you need to bargain with the union over changes to your COVID-19 policy and practices.

 

 

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