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Pennsylvania Adopts the CDC's Recommended Options to Reduce Quarantine Period for Individuals Exposed to COVID-19

December 7, 2020

Pennsylvania Adopts the CDC's Recommended Options to Reduce Quarantine Period for Individuals Exposed to COVID-19

December 7, 2020

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The new quarantine recommendations apply to all of Pennsylvania’s quarantine orders, including the travel orders issued on November 25, 2020.

In another attempt to encourage Pennsylvanians to adhere to public health recommendations, on December 4, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) adopted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recent recommendations which include options to reduce the quarantine period for asymptomatic people exposed to COVID-19. Previously, the CDC and DOH generally recommended that asymptomatic individuals quarantine for 14 days after the date of last exposure.

Effective immediately, and pursuant to the DOH’s latest community Health Alert, people in Pennsylvania who have been in close contact (within about 6 feet for a total of about 15 minutes) with someone who has COVID-19 can now end quarantine:

  • On Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring. However, it is recommended that symptom monitoring continue until Day 14; or
  • On Day 7 after receiving a negative test result and if no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring. The specimen must be collected and tested within 48 hours before the time of planned quarantine discontinuation (e.g., in anticipation of testing delays), but quarantine cannot be discontinued earlier than after Day 7. In order to discontinue quarantine after Day 7, specimens must be collected on or after Day 5.

Quarantine begins after the date of last exposure to a person with COVID-19 who is infectious. For persons with COVID-19 who are unable to isolate from their household members, the household members’ quarantine period begins when the case is no longer infectious.

People may discontinue quarantine at the above time points only if the following criteria are also met:

  • No clinical evidence of COVID-19 has been elicited by daily symptom monitoring during the entirety of quarantine up to the time at which quarantine is discontinued;
  • Daily symptom monitoring continues through quarantine Day 14; and
  • Persons are counseled regarding the need to adhere strictly through Day 14 after exposure to all recommended nonpharmaceutical interventions (e.g., masking, physical distancing).
    • If any symptoms develop, they should immediately self-isolate and contact the DOH at 1-877-PA-HEALTH, their local health department or their healthcare provider to report this change in clinical status.

The new quarantine recommendations apply to all of Pennsylvania’s quarantine orders, including the travel orders issued on November 25, 2020. But, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine cautions that “[t]he incubation period for COVID-19 remains at 14 days and it is still most protective to quarantine for the full two weeks. However, the CDC has affirmed that quarantine can end after 10 days if the person doesn’t develop symptoms, or after seven days if the person tests negative and has no symptoms.”

The latest quarantine guidance does not apply to healthcare or congregate settings. The DOH notes that:

non-healthcare congregate settings, such as prisons and shelters, continue to follow recommendations for a 14-day quarantine period. COVID-19 transmission within these setting can be difficult to control, and the increased transmission risk associated with shortening the quarantine time periods may be problematic in these settings. Other congregate settings, such as college dormitories, can consider implementing the shortened quarantine period but factors such as mask compliance and density of living conditions, along with the increased risk of transmission, should be carefully considered before implementing a reduced quarantine period. Daycare centers and K-12 schools can opt to shorten quarantine periods as described above as long as continued symptom monitoring for the full 14 days and other non-pharmaceutical interventions (e.g., masking, physical distancing) are strictly adhered to.

What This Means for Employers

The shorter quarantine recommendations for close contacts may allow businesses to return employees who were exposed to COVID-19 back to the physical workplace more quickly. However, before doing so, employers should ensure that (a) the employee did not experience any symptoms of COVID-19 during the shorter quarantine period, and (b) the employee continues to self-monitor for symptoms for the entire 14-day period after exposure. Employers must also comply with requirements in local jurisdictions, such as Philadelphia, which still require the longer 14-day quarantine period for asymptomatic close contacts. Furthermore, Governor Tom Wolf’s latest Mitigation, Enforcement, and Immunity Protections Order requires that, unless impossible, all businesses in Pennsylvania must conduct their operations remotely through individual telework. Thus, notwithstanding this updated quarantine guidance, as summarized in our previous Alert, businesses that are operating in-person should ensure compliance with the Order’s health and safety requirements, including the enforcement of mask and social distancing requirements.

Notably, life-sustaining businesses are subject to different guidelines if a worker is exposed to COVID-19. Pursuant to the DOH’s Health Alert issued on April 19, 2020, life-sustaining business workers are not required to observe a quarantine period and may continue to work following a potential exposure provided (1) they remain asymptomatic and (2) additional precautions, including rescreening, monitoring, masking, social distancing and disinfection/cleaning, are implemented.

As with much of the oft-changing guidance and orders issued by Governor Wolf and the Secretary of Health’s offices, employers must carefully examine their operations to ensure they are operating consistent with the applicable quarantine guidelines.

About Duane Morris

Duane Morris has created a COVID-19 Strategy Team to help organizations plan, respond to and address this fast-moving situation. Contact your Duane Morris attorney for more information. Prior Alerts on the topic are available on the team’s webpage.

For More Information

If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact, Linda B. Hollinshead, Elisabeth Bassani, any of the attorneys in our Employment, Labor, Benefits and Immigration Practice Group, any member of the COVID-19 Strategy Team or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.