CDC Return-to-Work Guidance Emphasizes Symptoms Over Testing

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 6, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidance for when it is safe for workers diagnosed with COVID-19 to return to work. Under the updated guidance, the CDC no longer recommends a test-based strategy to determine when an individual may end their at-home isolation, except in certain circumstances.

The CDC noted that accumulating evidence supports ending isolation and precautions for persons with COVID-19 using a symptom-based strategy. Specifically, it stated that people with mild to moderate COVID-19 remain infectious no more than 10 days after their symptoms began.

As a result, the CDC's guidance advises that persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue isolation if all of the following conditions are met:

  • At least 10 days have passed since symptom onset (reduced from 14 days);
  • At least 24 hours have passed since the resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications (reduced from 72 hours); and
  • Other symptoms (such as cough or shortness of breath) have improved.

The practical effect of these changes is that employees may not need to remain out from work as long as previously was the case after testing positive for COVID-19 or developing similar symptoms.

The guidance also recommends a symptom-based strategy in determining when to allow health care personnel (HCP) to return to work.

The CDC suggests extending the work exclusion for HCP with severe to critical illness to 20 days after the onset of symptoms, or 20 days after their initial positive SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic test. The guidance notes that asymptomatic HCP with severely compromised immune systems also should stay away from work for 20 days following their initial positive test.