On March 8, 2021, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its first set of public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people in non-healthcare settings. The new recommendations detail (1) how fully vaccinated people can safely visit others and (2) how those fully vaccinated should isolate, quarantine or get tested for COVID-19 upon exposure. The recommendations are limited in scope, and the CDC assures it will provide updates as more people become vaccinated.
The CDC recommendations make room for some employers to update their COVID-19 safety protocols regarding contact tracing and quarantine for fully vaccinated employees; however, employers should consult with counsel to ensure that any changes also comply with state and local requirements, which may still be more restrictive.
On March 8, 2021, the CDC issued interim public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people (Recommendations). Fully vaccinated people are those individuals who have been vaccinated by one of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration and a post-vaccination two-week period has passed, as follows: (1) individuals received their second dose in a two-dose series of vaccines at least two weeks ago; or (2) individuals received a single-dose vaccine at least two weeks ago.
The Recommendations provide differing safety recommendations depending on who is participating in small gatherings, as follows:
Low Risk (no masks or other prevention methods necessary, indoors OK):
Visits between fully vaccinated people;
Visits between (1) fully vaccinated people and (2) unvaccinated people from a single household with no individuals at increased risk of severe COVID-19
High Risk (masks, physical distancing, ventilation/outdoors and other prevention methods recommended):
Visits between (1) fully vaccinated people and (2) unvaccinated people from a single household that has at least one individual at increased risk of severe COVID-19 (regardless of whether the high-risk individual is present for the visit);
Visits between (1) fully vaccinated people and (2) unvaccinated people from multiple households, irrespective of risk status
People at increased risk of severe COVID-19 are older adults, pregnant people and people with certain medical conditions, described in more detail here.
The Recommendations further provide that all people, irrespective of whether they’ve been fully vaccinated, should adhere to the CDC’s current Events & Gatherings guidance and avoid medium- to large-sized in-person gatherings and follow applicable local guidance restricting the size of such gatherings.
ISOLATION, QUARANTINE AND TESTING
The Recommendations also cover guidance on if and when fully vaccinated people should isolate, quarantine or get tested following exposure to COVID-19.
Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, fully vaccinated or not, should isolate themselves from others, be clinically evaluated for COVID-19 and get tested, if necessary.
The CDC Recommendations state that fully vaccinated people who are exposed to COVID-19 do not need to quarantine or be tested following exposure as long as they are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Fully vaccinated people who are exposed to COVID-19 should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days following exposure. If they begin experiencing symptoms, then they should isolate themselves from others and get evaluated for COVID-19.
Further, the CDC Recommendations state that fully vaccinated employees of non-healthcare congregate settings and other “high-density workplaces” (i.e., meat and poultry processing and manufacturing plants) who are not exhibiting symptoms do not need to quarantine following exposure, but the Recommendations still suggest employees get tested following an exposure and maintain routine workplace screening programs.
Employers who are considering whether to adjust their COVID-19 safety plans regarding tracing and quarantine should consult with counsel, as the CDC Recommendations may conflict with state and local requirements. Moreover, although the Recommendations state that fully vaccinated employees do not need to quarantine if asymptomatic, a CDC science brief on available vaccines, published on March 8, 2021, warns that COVID-19 variants have emerged that appear to confer greater resistance to vaccines, and it is currently unclear whether the vaccines are as effective against these strains. The Recommendations also note that it is not yet known whether a fully vaccinated person can still transmit the virus to others.
The Recommendations leave room for expansion. For example, there is not yet any updated guidance on travel. Current guidance encouraging individuals to delay travel and stay home remains in place for fully vaccinated people. All air passengers coming to the United States, irrespective of whether they have been vaccinated, must have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding their flight.
We expect the Recommendations to be updated and expanded upon as the CDC gathers more information on the evolving science of the various vaccines, and as data changes on the level of community spread and how much of the population gets vaccinated. The Recommendations can be found on the CDC’s website here.
The McDermott Will & Emery team is available to assist businesses with developing practical solutions for addressing questions of how to treat fully vaccinated employees under the new Recommendations and considering other federal, state and local recommendations and requirements.