Workers Exposed to SARS-CoV-2 Can Remain as 'Last Resort' in Updated Guidance

Damian McNamara

December 01, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Essential workers believed to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 may remain in the workplace as a "last resort and only in limited circumstances," according to updated guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The recommendations apply to people who are asymptomatic and have not tested positive for COVID-19.

When closure of a facility "may cause serious harm or danger to public health or safety," for example, these essential workers can remain onsite. This and other updated recommendations appear on the agency's COVID-19 Critical Infrastructure Sector Response Planning website, last updated November 16.

The updated guidance was driven by new scientific evidence regarding transmission risk from asymptomatic and presymptomatic individuals, ongoing community transmission in many parts of the country, and a need to simplify assessment of risk, according to the CDC.

The new recommendations update interim guidance posted on April 8. For example, the initial recommendations for essential workers did not outline quarantine recommendations. However, the updated information states that, with some possible exceptions, "individuals (including critical infrastructure workers) exposed to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be quarantined for 14 days."

Facial covering recommendations were also updated. Initially the CDC recommended workers wear face masks at least 14 days after any potential exposure. The updated guidance clarifies that all workers should wear a cloth mask in the workplace, in accordance with CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines, as well as any local or state requirements.  

In addition to medical and healthcare workers, the CDC guidance applies to many industries employing critical infrastructure workers. The agency follows the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency's definition of essential industries, which includes telecommunications, information technology, defense, food and agriculture, energy, and law enforcement.

The CDC also encouraged employers to work with public health officials from local, state, tribal, and territorial offices to decide on the safest ways to reintegrate exposed workers who haven't tested positive for COVID-19 back into the workplace.

Damian McNamara is a staff journalist based in Miami. He covers a wide range of medical specialties, including infectious diseases, gastroenterology, and rheumatology. Follow Damian on Twitter: @MedReporter.

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