One of the most challenging parts of reopening a business is encountering a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 among your employees and attempting to identify those employees who worked near the infected worker – and thus must also be quarantined. The Rule is really quite simple: Infected employees must identify others who worked within 6 feet of them, for 15 minutes or more, within the 48 hours immediately prior to the sick individual showing symptoms.
The first step requires employers to inquire of the infected employee about those individuals who worked within close proximity of the employee. The CDC generally defines a direct exposure to COVID-19 as an individual who is a household member with an infected person, intimate partner with an infected person, or an individual who has had close contact (< 6 feet) for a prolonged period of time with an infected individual.
The CDC’s current guidance on the definition of “prolonged period of time” provides that recommendations can vary on this,” but 15 minutes of close exposure can be used as an operational definition. Thus, after identifying the employees who worked within six feet of the individual worker, employers must determine if any remained within such close proximity of the sick employee for 15 minutes or more.
The CDC defines the key period of time for determining if an employee was exposed to an infected worker as the “period from 48 hours before symptoms onset until” the infected employee is cleared to discontinue self-isolation. For purposes of contact tracing, the key here is to look at the 48 hours before the sick employee had symptoms and was still working in the workplace.
Asking the sick employee to identify these potentially exposed workers is likely the best contact tracing tool. However, using the above criteria is a safe and clear method to Identify exposed employees. Once identified, the CDC guidance for non-critical businesses provides that the exposed employees should take the following steps:
If your company is part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, you may follow different CDC guidelines in lieu of quarantining potentially exposed employees who are asymptomatic. However, all companies can use the above guidance to identify potentially exposed workers.
As orders around the country allowing businesses to reopen continue to be issued, employers will face new legal and practical challenges in the workplace. Addressing confirmed COVID-19 cases in the workplace will unfortunately become reality for many employers. Now is the time to prepare for such an event. This is a constantly evolving area, with new guidance being issued nearly every day. Watch for updates from Schwartz Rollins LLC in the coming days and weeks.