By Adam R. YoungA. Scott HeckerPatrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is shifting its COVID-19 isolation guidance, advising that COVID-positive individuals no longer need to isolate once they have been fever-free for 24 hours and their symptoms are mild or improving.

After weeks of rumors, the CDC revised its COVID-19 guidance to eliminate its five-day isolation recommendation and to suggest only enhanced situational precautions after an individual is fever-free for 24 hours:

When people get sick with a respiratory virus, the updated guidance recommends that they stay home and away from others. For people with COVID-19 and influenza, treatment is available and can lessen symptoms and lower the risk of severe illness. The recommendations suggest returning to normal activities when, for at least 24 hours, symptoms are improving overall, and if a fever was present, it has been gone without use of a fever-reducing medication.

Once people resume normal activities, they are encouraged to take additional prevention strategies for the next 5 days to curb disease spread, such as taking more steps for cleaner air, enhancing hygiene practices, wearing a well-fitting mask, keeping a distance from others, and/or getting tested for respiratory viruses. Enhanced precautions are especially important to protect those most at risk for severe illness, including those over 65 and people with weakened immune systems.

The updated guidance also advises “additional considerations for people who are at higher risk of severe illness from respiratory viruses, including people who are immunocompromised, people with disabilities, people who are or were recently pregnant, young children, and older adults. Respiratory viruses remain a public health threat.”

California updated its isolation guidance at the beginning of January.

Employers with policies aligning with prior guidance advising that individuals with flu-like symptoms test for COVID and isolate for at least five days after testing COVID-positive could consider updating them to keep pace with CDC’s revisions.  Employers outside of the healthcare industry continue to broadly eliminate COVID-specific policies, but everyone should remain cognizant of specific industry or jurisdictional requirements that may differ from CDC guidance. 

For advice and counseling on this issue, or for more information on any related topic, please contact the authors or any member of the Workplace Safety and Environmental Team.