When an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, the employee must follow the rules for “isolation,” while persons exposed to that employee must follow the rules for “quarantine.” The rules are imposed by state-level entities, namely, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), governing residents of California, and Cal/OSHA (governing California employers), and by county-level entities such as the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (governing residents of LA County). Employers must comply with the most stringent of these rules.
The rules have recently changed. On December 16, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board voted to update the Cal/OSHA regulation, the Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), and these changes will go into effect on January 14, 2022. On December 27, 2021, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine. On December 30, 2021, the CDPH issued updated guidance, and on December 31, 2021, the County of Los Angeles issued updated health orders.
Some of these requirements are summarized below.
1. Current requirements for persons who test positive for COVID-19 (“isolation”)
California Department of Public Health
Per CDPH guidelines, persons who test positive for COVID-19:
- Should stay home for at least 5 days;
- If symptoms are not present or are resolving, and a diagnostic specimen collected on day 5 or later tests negative, may end isolation after day 5;
- If symptoms are not present or are resolving, and unable to test or choosing not to test, may end isolation after day 10;
- If fever is present, should continue isolation until fever resolves;
- If symptoms, other than fever, are not resolving, should continue to isolate until symptoms are resolving or until after day 10; and
- Should wear a well-fitting mask around others for a total of 10 days, especially in indoor settings.
Notably, while the CDC revised guidelines do not require a test before ending isolation, the CDPH guidelines do. The CPDH guidelines also provide that they do not apply to certain healthcare settings, for which the CDPH has specialized guidance.
Los Angeles County
Los Angeles County’s revised isolation order now tracks the CPDH guidelines.
Cal-OSHA’s rules for employers, the ETS, govern when employees who test positive for COVID should be excluded from and return to work. Per an executive order from Governor Newsom, the ETS return rules are automatically suspended if they are more strict than the longer of the isolation rules of the CDPH and any local requirements. Thus, employers need simply follow the above CDPH and LA county orders, or their local public health order.
2. Current requirements for persons exposed to persons who test positive for COVID-19 (“Quarantine”)
The CPDH’s quarantine guidelines depend on vaccination status.
- Persons who are unvaccinated, or who are vaccinated and booster-eligible but have not yet received their booster dose, must follow the same requirements as for isolation, above.
- Persons who are boosted, or who are vaccinated but not yet booster-eligible, do not need to stay home, and need only test on day 5 and wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days.
- Someone is “booster eligible”:
- For Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech – six months after second dose
- For Johnson & Johnson – two months after first dose
- For WHO emergency-use-listed vaccine – six months after all recommended doses
- Mix- and-match series – six months after all recommended doses
Los Angeles County’s revised quarantine order has the same requirements for all persons, whether vaccinated or not.
- Persons, unless exempted, are required to quarantine if they were in close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 during that person’s infectious period. Close contact means being within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period; or having unprotected contact with their body fluids and/or secretions. Persons are exempted from this quarantine requirement only if they have no symptoms and if they are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations (meaning they have received all recommended doses of the primary series and either received a booster or are not yet booster-eligible).
- Persons required to quarantine must stay home and self-quarantine from others for at least 5 days. They may end the quarantine after Day 5 only if they are asymptomatic and received a negative test on or after Day 5. Otherwise, they may end the quarantine after Day 10.
- All persons in close contact with a COVID-19 case, whether they are required to quarantine or are exempted from quarantine, must also:
- test for COVID-19 immediately;
- test again on Day 5 after the last exposure (day 0 is the day of the last exposure); and
- wear a mask for 10 days while around others, both indoors and outdoors.
As with the isolation requirements, the return-to-work rules of the ETS for persons exposed to a COVID-19 case rules are automatically suspended if they are more strict than the longer of the quarantine rules of the CDPH and any local requirements. Thus, employers need simply follow the above CDPH and LA county orders., or their local public health order.
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