Updated CDC Guidance: Fully Vaccinated Individuals Need Not Quarantine After COVID-19 Exposure

The CDC’s guidelines state that individuals should quarantine for 14 days after contact with someone with COVID-19, which can be reduced to 10 days if no symptoms developed after exposure.  Now that vaccines are becoming more widely available, employers are asking whether the quarantine period can be shortened or eliminated for their workers who have received the vaccine.

The CDC has stated that the quarantine period can be eliminated entirely for a fully vaccinated individual who meets all criteria – but the guidance is conditioned on the individual meeting all three criteria:

The criteria for allowing a vaccinated individual to skip quarantine – and continue working – after exposure to a COVID-19 case, are:

  1. Individual has received both doses of a 2-dose vaccine series or one dose of an approved single-dose vaccine
  2. Individual has received the final dose in the series at least two weeks ago, but not more than three months ago
  3. Individual has remained symptom-free since the last known exposure to COVID-19.

Although the three-month window is short, guidance is evolving constantly as more is learned in real-world settings about the immunity conferred by the vaccines.  As more is learned about the longer-term protection conferred by a vaccine, we expect that the CDC’s guidance will be updated again.  The CDC’s recommendation to waive quarantine for people with vaccine-derived immunity aligns with its quarantine recommendations for individuals with natural (post-infection) immunity.

The CDC also advises that fully vaccinated persons who do not quarantine should monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days following exposure, and continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands often, following CDC travel guidance.

Likewise, the CDC does not exempt vaccinated persons from following any applicable workplace or school guidance, including use of proper personal protective equipment or routine COVID testing.

However, when requiring employees to return to work, employers should be mindful that they comply with the more restrictive state and local regulations applicable to their workplaces. While many state and local public health department guidance defer to current CDC guidelines, others, like California’s Department of Public Health and Cal OSHA, may be more restrictive. As of this writing, the Cal OSHA published FAQs states that its Emergency Temporary Standards (including return to work protocol after an exposure) currently must still be followed for vaccinated persons, but “[t]he impact of vaccines will likely be addressed in a future revision to the ETS” – hopefully soon.

If you have questions about COVID-19 prevention standards in the workplace, please do not hesitate to contact your Weintraub Labor & Employment attorney.