On December 14, 2020, the California Department of Health (CDPH) issued guidance shortening the quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days for asymptomatic "close contacts" of an infected individual (those who were within six feet of an infected individual for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period), with or without testing.
The new guidance also permits, during critical staffing shortages, the following categories of essential critical infrastructure workers to return to work after Day 7 from the date of their last exposure if they received a negative PCR test result for COVID-19 from a specimen collected after Day 5:
- Exposed asymptomatic health care workers and
- Exposed emergency response and social service workers who work with clients in the child welfare system or in assisted facilities.
These shortened quarantine periods are intended to align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's December 2, 2020 Guidance for shortening quarantine periods based on the burdens and risks of non-compliance associated with the longer 14-day quarantine period the CDC had recommended previously.
On the same day of the newly issued CDPH Guidance, Governor Newsom's Office released an executive order that, among other things, incorporates the shortened quarantine periods set forth in the CDPH's Guidance to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health's (Cal/OSHA)'s Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)—namely, the provisions dealing with exclusion of COVID-19 cases from the workplace (Section 3205(c)(10)) and return-to-work criteria (Section 3205(c)(11). Those shortened quarantine periods set forth in the CDPH's Guidance will apply, unless there is a local health order that prescribes a longer exclusion period. Previously, the ETS required close contacts to be quarantined for 14 days after their last known exposure to an infected individual. With the CDPH's guidance and Governor Newsom's executive order, employers are permitted to accelerate that period for asymptomatic close contact by discontinuing quarantine after Day 10 of the last exposure, provided the employee adheres to wearing face coverings at all times, and maintains physical distancing of at least six feet through Day 14 at the workplace.
The CDPH's Guidance and Governor Newsom's order provide some clarity in aligning the ETS with CDC guidance and a modicum of relief for employers struggling with productivity losses due to exclusions, particularly those engaged in critical infrastructure work such as health care, emergency response and social work. Despite all this, the ETS continue to present numerous compliance and operational challenges for employers.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.