New CDC Guidance Eliminates 5-Day Quarantine Rules and Encourages Protocols Similar to Other Precautions for other Respiratory Illness

June 13, 2024

While many individuals already stopped following CDC’s isolation and quarantine rules, it was not until just recently that the agency officially relaxed their recommendations.  Now it’s official.  The CDC announced in its March 1, 2024 press release, that its new guidelines drop their prior guidance that had suggested that a person testing positive for COVID should isolate for 5 days, and mask for 5 more, until they test negative.  Going forward, the CDC’s new guidance calls for no special quarantine or isolation rules for COVID.  Instead, the agency now recommends that a person testing positive for COVID should stay home from work or school, just until they are feeling better or are fever free. In essence, the agency is now advocating for treating COVID as one would any other respiratory illness or the flu.

More specifically, new CDC guidance recommends that those who test positive for COVID-19 should stay out of work or school until they have been fever-free (with no fever reduction medication) for at least 24 hours and until their symptoms are improving for a period for 24 hours.  The new guidance also encourages people, once they return to school or home and resume normal activities, “to take additional prevention strategies for the next 5 days to curb disease spread.”  Such strategies include engaging in enhanced hygiene practices, wearing a proper fitting mask, getting tested regularly for illness, and keeping a distance from others, especially those more vulnerable and at risk for severe illness, including those over 65 and people with weakened immune systems.  Finally, the CDC recommends that all people stay up to date with vaccination, practice good hygiene (by covering coughs and sneezes, washing or sanitizing hands often, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces), and take steps for cleaner air, such as bringing in more fresh outside air, purifying indoor air, or gathering outdoors.

So this means employers do not have to worry about COVID anymore, right?  Wrong.  The loosening of quarantine and isolation restrictions should be good news for businesses and employers.  Fewer and less stringent health restrictions mean that most employees can return to work sooner than in the height of this pandemic.  But, employers still cannot pretend like COVID never happened.  And they certainly should not reflexively take the position that they have no obligations to their employees simply because we have learned how to better deal with the virus.

Employers must keep in mind that they remain obligated to provide time off, including sick time (paid or unpaid) in accordance with their regular policies or practices and/or applicable law.  They are also well advised to remain open minded that some people with COVID may experience more serious symptoms than others.  This is the same with any illness.  Employers should stay vigilant about knowing when and how to engage in an appropriate interactive process and identify any reasonable accommodations that may need to offer employees whose COVID symptoms may rise to the level of a disability, for example in for those suffering from long-haul COVID.  Further to this point, EEOC guidance on COVID, which address issues like workplace discrimination related to COVID, vaccination status and accommodating COVID-related disabilities remain in effect.  Employers must take care to comply with this guidance, even now, when COVID is largely in the rearview mirror.

Overall, though the situation continues to improve.  At this point, employers who design and enforce reasonable policies that treat COVID in the workplace like other serious respiratory illness and who respond to COVID-related disabilities like all other disabilities, are likely to find themselves in line with the law and public health guidance.