New COVID-19 Guidance in 2022

Though many workplaces slowed down during the holidays, neither COVID-19’s Omicron variant nor the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) took a moment’s rest. Importantly for California employers, on December 30 2021, CDPH issued their guidance interpreting CDC’s December 27th update to their Isolation and Quarantine guidelines.

These changes generally shorten quarantine and isolation periods due to scientific findings that COVID-19 tends to spread mainly early on after infection and when symptoms are present. As a result, they generally shorten quarantine and isolation periods for asymptomatic cases.

However, California employers should focus on CDPH’s guidance (over CDC’s guidance), as CDPH is what is applicable in California and it is significantly more stringent than CDC’s. Generally speaking, CDPH’s requirements are as follows:

1. Vaccinated employees who are exposed to COVID-19 (that is those who have received a booster if six months have passed) are not required to isolate if they are asymptomatic, but must:

– Test on day 5 after exposure
– Wear a mask for 10 days

2. Unvaccinated employees who are exposed to COVID-19 (or those who have two shots but not yet been boosted) must:

– Quarantine for five days after close contact
– Test on day 5 – and if they test negative and have no symptoms, then they can return to work but must wear a mask through day 10
– If they refuse to test, or cannot be tested, the employee must remain quarantined for 10 days, and can then return if they have no symptoms.
– Wear a mask after return through Day 10.

3. For confirmed cases (those with positive tests), their treatment is similar to the unvaccinated exposures. Confirmed cases must:

– Isolate for five days, and should perform a test on day 5.
– With a negative test and no symptoms, they can end isolation at Day 5.
– If they’re unable to test or choose not to test – even they have no symptoms – isolation must last for 10 days.
– If fever or other symptoms are present, isolation lasts longer.

Notably, this CDPH update should apply to California’s workplaces via Executive Order N-84-20. The Executive Order, signed in December of 2020, provided that the exclusion periods under Cal/OSHA’s Workplace ETS were replaced by “any applicable quarantine or isolation period recommended by CDPH” if CDPH’s recommendations were shorter than the timeframe included in the ETS. For reference, the version of the ETS which was approved by Cal/OSHA at the December Standards Board meeting and will go into effect in January of 2022 provides for:

– A minimum 10-day exclusion of positive COVID-19 cases, regardless of symptoms (longer than CDPH’s 5-day minimum for asymptomatic cases)
– A minimum 7-day exclusion for exposed employees after testing on day 7 (longer than CDPH’s 5-day testing and return for unvaccinated exposed employees or 0-day minimum for boosted employees)

Presently, we are awaiting a statement from Cal/OSHA making explicitly clear how they will comply with the Executive Order – but California employers can expect this shortened quarantine period to be coming to the workplace soon.

And don’t forget about the other upcoming dates of importance in January:

January 7, 2022: Supreme Court hears argument on the federal vaccine mandate on January 7th, 2022. Unclear when they’ll rule.
January 14, 2022: New version of California’s Workplace ETS goes into effect (passed at December meeting).
January 20, 2022: Cal/OSHA votes on adopting the federal vaccine mandate, as is required by federal law. If the Supreme Court has not ruled, expect it to be passed. It remains uncertain how/if the deadlines contained in the vaccine mandate.

Thankfully, there is one silver lining as we head into 2022 – the Omicron variant appears to spread incredibly quickly but result in less severe illness for most cases, particularly if you are vaccinated.

So please – stay safe, get vaccinated, and get boosted! Here’s to a better 2022!

Robert Moutrie, Policy Advocate