Just When You Think You Have A Handle On COVID-19 Quarantine Protocol…A Symptoms-Based Approach Emerges As CDC Guidance

By: Amy Epstein Gluck

Employees must wear masks in the workplace? Check.

Employees working in a socially distant manner at least six feet apart? Check.

Emergency paid sick leave and expanded family medical leave policy drafted and distributed so that employees know about their rights to leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act? Check.

Safety policies and protocols, including managing employees who test positive for COVID-19 or were potentially exposed? Now, we have to back the truck up.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has changed the game a bit in its COVID-19 advice.

Wait. What? 

I know, I know, employers thought they had everything COVID-19 down pat. Done and dusted. We got this.

But…things have changed as to quarantine and isolation protocol.

Employers, the CDC released new information the other day (which you can review in full here) that impacts how you treat employees who have tested positive for COVID-19.

 Why This Change in Guidance?

Well, the CDC says that right now, it doesn’t know if someone can be re-infected with COVID-19. That said, data shows that a person who had and recovered from COVID-19 may have low levels of virus in their bodies for up to three months after diagnosis—so if such a recovered person is retested within three months of the initial infection, they may continue to have a positive test result, yet they are not spreading COVID-19.


That said…the CDC advised there are no confirmed reports to date of a person being reinfected with COVID-19 within three months.

But, if a worker who had COVID-19 develops new symptoms of COVID-19, that person may need an evaluation for reinfection, especially if the person had close contact with someone newly infected with COVID-19. In that case, the CDC recommends that the person should isolate and contact a healthcare provider to be evaluated for other causes of their symptoms, and possibly retested.

Accordingly, the CDC NOW says that accumulating evidence supports ending isolation and precautions for persons with COVID-19 using a symptom-based strategy. You can read the scientific evidence set forth by the CDC on its site here, if you choose.

I’ve got most of the highlights for you below.

Workplace Recommendations

All of this said, the CDC’s advise is now :

  • For most people who contract  COVID-19, isolation and precautions can generally be discontinued 10 days after symptom onset and resolution of fever for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medications, and with improvement of other symptoms.
      • Some with severe illness may still show the virus beyond 10 days that may warrant extending duration of isolation and precautions for up to 20 days after symptom onset.
      • For asymptomatic folks, isolation and other precautions can be discontinued 10 days after the date of their first positive test.
  • Consider the role of PCR testing (one type of COVID-19 testing) to discontinue isolation or other precautions for persons who are severely immunocompromised—in other words, talk to a doctor.
  • For others, who are not immunocompromised, a test-based strategy is no longer recommended, except to discontinue isolation earlier than ten days.
  • Role of PCR testing after discontinuation of isolation or precautions:
    • For your employees who were previously diagnosed with symptoms of COVID-19 and positive for COVID-19 yet who remain asymptomatic after recovery, retesting is not recommended within three months after the date of first symptom for the initial COVID-19 infection.
    • For those who develop new symptoms during the three months after the date of initial symptom onset, that person may warrant retesting; consult experts.

So, this is… a lot. I get it. The CDC’s site has all the details you need. For employers who may need a little help interpreting the CDC guidance—you know where to find legal guidance.

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.