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Revised 1/6/2022

What Should You Do if an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19?

Isolate. Send the employee home immediately or tell the employee to remain at home.

Identify possible exposure. Identify all individuals the employee came into close contact with and immediately send these employees home as well. The CDC defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. (This is revised from previous definition of 15 consecutive minutes). You should also identify and contact any clients, customers or vendors the infected employee came into close contact with. If you share a building or worksite, you should inform property management.

Protect employee privacy. When communicating possible exposure to employees and third parties, you cannot share confidential medical information including the name of the employee.

Clean and disinfect. As a precaution, you may also want to pursue a deep cleaning of your worksite, with a focus on disinfecting all areas used by the infected employee. Review the CDC’s guidelines for cleaning and disinfection.

When Can Employees Who Tested Positive for COVID-19 Return to Work?

The CDC updated its guidance for how long individuals who tested positive should isolate at home, shortening from 10 to 5 days for those with mild or no symptoms. It now recommends that ending isolation should be based on symptoms and not testing and follow these timelines:

  • Those who tested positive but did not develop symptoms can end isolation after 5 days.
  • Those who tested positive and have moderate to mild symptoms can end isolation after 5 days, if at least 24 hours have passed without a fever (or the use of fever reducing medication) and other symptoms have improved. You should continue to wear a well-fitting mask around others at home and in public for 5 additional days (day 6 through day 10) after the end of your 5-day isolation period. If you are unable to wear a mask when around others, you should continue to isolate for a full 10 days. Avoid people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease, and nursing homes and other high-risk settings, until after at least 10 days.
  • Those who have severe symptoms may need to continue to isolate for up to 20 days.

If you are unable to get a test 5 days after last close contact with someone with COVID-19, you can return to work after day 5 if you have been without COVID-19 symptoms throughout the 5-day period. Wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days after your date of last close contact when at work or in public.

Previously the CDC recommended that employers required two negative tests from an employee who tested positive before that employee returned to work but with the symptoms-based approach now recommended, that is no longer necessary. Instead employers can follow the timeline described above. They may also want to ask the employee to sign a Self-Certification to Return to Work which documents this information. Anthros can provide this form to clients.

What Are the Isolation Guidelines for Individuals Exposed to COVID-19?

Vaccinated individuals who have been exposed should get tested 3-5 days after exposure even if they don’t have symptoms. They do not need to isolate immediately but should wear a mask in indoor settings until their test results come back. If the test comes back positive, they should follow the guidance above before returning to work.

Unvaccinated individuals should immediately isolate after contact with a person who has COVID-19. They should get tested 5 days after exposure and follow the guidance above before returning to work.

What Are the Reporting Requirements?

OSHA released COVID-19 reporting requirements for employers that obligate employers to make a reasonable determination if a positive COVID-19 case is work-related. How should an employer do this? Ask the employee how they believe they contracted COVID-19 and about activities outside of work that may have led to them contracting COVID-19 while being careful to respect the employee’s privacy.

You may be able to determine a case is work-related if: there are a number of cases among employees that work together, or the employee had prolonged contact or proximity to a customer or coworker who tested positive for COVID-19. However, OSHA recognizes that where there is wide community transmission, an employer may not be able to identify how the employee contracted COVID-19.

Employers must report hospitalizations to OSHA if the employee is hospitalized within 24 hours of being exposed at work, and fatalities if the employee dies within 30 days of exposure at work. Employers must record all work-related cases of COVID-19. Recording is an internal employer process; reporting means an incident is directly reported to OSHA. Review OSHA’s guidance on recording and reporting COVID-19 cases among employees

Review Efforts to Minimize Risk of Transmission (from OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19)

  • Promote frequent and thorough hand washing, including by providing workers, customers, and worksite visitors with a place to wash their hands. If soap and running water are not immediately available, provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Encourage workers to stay home if they are sick.
  • Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.
  • Provide customers and the public with tissues and trash receptacles.
  • Employers should explore whether they can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), to increase physical distance among and between employees
  • Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment
  • Maintain routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment

If you have questions about how to protect employees and remain in compliance with COVID-related laws and regulations, do not hesitate to reach out to our team.

We are closely monitoring new guidance, legislation and regulatory updates. Please continue to check the Anthros blog for the latest news on COVID-19 and regulatory compliance.

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