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What does shorter isolation, quarantine periods mean for going back to work?

December 29, 2021

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The CDC is recommending shortening the length of time people need to stay in isolation and quarantine.

Instead of 10 days in isolation, people without symptoms can return to work after five days and then wear a mask for another five days when around others. Those exposed to someone whose positive can also see a change in guidelines. If vaccinated, the person would not have to quarantine but should wear a mask for ten days. If unvaccinated or six months past full vaccination, or two months for Johnson & Johnson and not yet boosted, the recommendation is now five days in quarantine with another five of strict mask use. Testing is recommended after five days and, if symptoms occur, people should quarantine until a negative test result.

This change comes after the CDC says science shows the majority of transmission is generally one to two days prior to the start of symptoms and then two to three days after.

For work, this means employees can get back sooner. Eugene Welch is a partner with Tully Rinckey PLLC. He said employers can adopt the change if the local health department does too. However, they don’t have to.

He said they can also require a test before coming back to work.

“It will encourage people to return to work sooner if they can do their jobs wearing a mask and almost everybody can so that should be good for our workforce in New York State and keep the economy open and keep employers working,” he said.

He said, even if the company doesn’t adopt the change, employees have to accept that. He said the workers should be notified if they do adopt it, especially if they are out in isolation or quarantine.

“If you want your employees to follow whatever your guidelines are, you have to give them adequate notice. You can’t expect them to know what’s on the employers mind without getting a letter, an email, a telephone call some notice saying you can come back to work now as long as you’re asymptomatic,” he said.

County health departments will decide whether to adopt the changes or not. The Oswego County Chairman announced Tuesday they will adopt the changes. Onondaga County has not made a decision yet.

The county executive said they are still waiting for clarification on some of the terminology used in the guidance.

“It’s our opinion that the five-day quarantine is something that, at this point, is needed,” Ryan McMahon said. “This is the type of guidance that, for example, if the state did not move on, which I think they will, we’ll move on.”

McMahon said this is an acknowledgment that COVID isn’t going away.

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