The CDC Updated Its COVID-19 Guidance: Here’s What It Means for Your Workplace

The CDC maintains that COVID-19 “remains an ongoing public health threat.”

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The CDC Just Updated its COVID-19 Guidance: Here’s What it Means for Your Workplace

Here's what you need to know about the CDC updating its COVID-19 guidance:

  • A review of what’s changed and what remains the same in handling the pandemic may help you continue keeping your employees and workplace as safe and healthful as possible.
  • The CDC has stopped recommending precautionary quarantine to slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • If your company has followed CDC guidance, the updates may not seem complicated to adopt or observe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidelines on preventing the spread and minimizing the health risks of COVID-19. The agency posted the guidelines on their website on August 11, 2022.

A review of what’s changed and what remains the same in handling the pandemic may help you continue keeping your employees and workplace as safe and healthful as possible.

A CDC summary of COVID-19

Summarizing the updates, the CDC says that the tools for handling the pandemic and what the agency sees as a high level of immunity among the population have reduced the risk of illness and death.

The agency maintains that to prevent COVID-19-related health problems and death, people must:

  • Understand the risks of infection.
  • Get tested if they have virus-type symptoms.
  • Protect themselves with vaccines, therapies, and nonpharmaceutical remedies.
  • Wear masks if exposed to the virus.
  • Self-isolate for five or more days if infected.

The CDC also says that vaccines and other preventive therapies can protect people at high risk of infection and reduce the strain on the healthcare system in treating those who are infected.

CDC dismisses precautionary quarantine

The CDC has stopped recommending precautionary quarantine to slow the spread of COVID-19. The previous guidance advised people who’ve been exposed to the virus or who weren’t up to date with immunization to self-quarantine for 5 days as a precaution. Now the agency has eliminated precautionary quarantine and is focused on preventative measures that involve:

  • Testing
  • Vaccines
  • Booster shots
  • Masks

According to the CDC, testing can detect infections early so that people who are infected can get the treatment they need as soon as possible and reduce the risk of becoming ill, dying, and spreading the virus to others.

Vaccines, boosters, and masks are key

The agency always recommended testing and vaccines as they became available, along with the other preventive steps it’s now encouraging. However, a closer look at each measure shows where the CDC has adjusted its guidance to control the virus’s spread.

Vaccination and boosters

The guidance now recommends that staying up-to-date on immunization is key to reducing the spread, transmission, and risks of COVID-19.

The CDC has consistently pushed for vaccinations and, later, booster shots to control the virus. But the shift toward encouraging people to get booster vaccinations regularly stems from the center’s concern about what it cites as a low booster rate, 32%, among people eligible for immunization in the U.S.

The agency expects boosters for the Omicron variant to be available by September 2022. This forecast also may account for an adjustment in the guidance.

Masks

The CDC still recommends that those who recently have had a confirmed case of COVID-19 or who may have been exposed to the virus wear masks for 10 days when around others. People should be tested after being exposed to the virus within five or more days, according to the agency’s recommendation.

The agency’s emphasis on masking is somewhat of a replacement for the precautionary quarantine recommendation. The agency advises those who are symptomatic or tested positive for the virus to isolate themselves after the symptoms have subsided for five days or 24 hours, whichever lasts the longest and wear a mask for 10 full days when around others.

Testing

Under the updated guidance, the CDC recommends that screening tests, however they’re administered, should include everyone, regardless of their immunization status. The agency’s stand is that testing only those who are unvaccinated may fail to uncover what it calls “the demonstrated risk of breakthrough infections,” particularly among those who aren’t current with their booster shots.

Testing can detect infections early, helping infected people get the treatment they need as soon as possible. According to the CDC, this reduces the risk of becoming ill, dying, and spreading the virus to others.

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What updates mean for employers

If your company has followed CDC guidance, the updates may not seem complicated to adopt or observe. In fact, the CDC has streamlined earlier guidance so that it either coincides with measures employers already have been taking or removes burdensome recommendations, like the precautionary quarantine.

For example, the original guidance on quarantines kept employees exposed to COVID-19 temporarily out of the workplace. However, the recommendation was a problem for employers who didn’t or couldn’t offer their employees work-from-home options and for employees, especially those classified as hourly and/or essential, who had to perform their jobs onsite and who felt they couldn’t afford financially to be out on unpaid leave – not even for their health or anyone else’s.

As for COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC’s focus on people getting booster shots regularly to contain the spread of the virus isn’t as stringent as the vaccine mandates employers have adopted in some instances as a condition of employment.

For instance, in the 2021 Littler COVID-19 Employer Survey Report, less than 1% of 1,800 HR professionals, in-house lawyers, and C-suite executives mandated vaccines for their employers. Only 6% said they would do so when COVID-19 vaccines became available. By January 2022, companies like American Express, Delta Airlines, DoorDash, Lyft, CVS Health, Deloitte, and Google mandate vaccines with specific exemptions.

The agency recognizes the challenges employers face in helping to control the pandemic, including keeping the workplace safe and healthy.

The CDC doesn’t directly call out employers as screening administrators under the testing guidance. It does point out how vital detecting infections early is in controlling the health risks fueled by the virus. So, this isn’t the company’s responsibility even when the CDC recommends that everyone be tested.

How the CDC sets guidance

The CDC says its recommendations for public health change in response to science. As it evolves, so do the available biomedical tools and health-related data, such as the level of immunity in the general population and evolving variants of the virus.

The agency has a three-point, strategic approach to minimizing the risks of COVID-19, which relies on:

  • Vaccination and therapeutic
  • Using multicomponent prevention measures
  • Protecting people who are at high risk for severe illness

The CDC maintains that COVID-19 “remains an ongoing public health threat,” especially with the relatively low booster rate among the U.S. population and the emerging variants of the virus mentioned earlier.

CDC’s message to employers

The agency recognizes the challenges employers face in helping to control the pandemic, including keeping the workplace safe and healthy as great numbers of employees return to the worksite after performing their jobs remotely.

The CDC says employers will continue to have a central role in reducing COVID-19 as a severe global health threat. The agency recommends that employers review local, state, industry-specific, and contractual mandates for handling the pandemic before adjusting their practices to meet CDC guidance.

The takeaway

The CDC guidance is not a list of federal requirements but a series of recommendations. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), your organization isn’t obligated to follow them.

Although a U.S. judge blocked Pres. Joseph Biden, from making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory to control the virus in January 2022, you’re entitled to make vaccines and testing mandatory within local, state, and federal laws and with any necessary exemptions you find acceptable.

In the case of a severe health outbreak like a pandemic, an agency such as the CDC is likely to have access to critical, scientific-based information that you’ll need to help you make the best health and safety decisions for your business.

By reviewing all CDC guidance and keeping up with any changes, you’ll be better able to adapt or adjust your policies as needed to continue getting the pandemic and the risks it creates under control.

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