HOW LONG DO EMPLOYEES HAVE TO QUARANTINE IF EXPOSED TO COVID-19?
Updated: May 17, 2021
By Paula Jackson
April 20, 2021
The CDC recently released updated time frames for quarantine and potential alternatives, as well as answered whether vaccinated employees have to quarantine.
Although the CDC recommends a 14-day quarantine as best practice, it recognizes that local jurisdictions may set shorter quarantines of 7 or 10 days and allow critical infrastructure employees to work early under certain conditions. Quarantine can end after 10 days, or after 7 days if there was a negative test sometime during day 5-7, but only if the employee wears a mask, is counseled about mitigation strategies (e.g., staying 6 feet from others and taking other precautions to prevent the spread of COVID), and monitors symptoms daily while remaining symptom-free for the entire 14 day quarantine period. Critical infrastructure employees may return to work prior to quarantine’s end if they have no symptoms, have no positive test, wear masks and take other COVID precautions, but only “as a last resort and only in limited circumstances, such as when cessation of operation of a facility may cause serious harm or danger to public health or safety.”
Additionally, the CDC has indicated that non-healthcare employees who are fully vaccinated and have no symptoms do not need to quarantine or be tested if exposed to COVID. However, those employees must still watch for COVID symptoms for 14 days after exposure, and if they develop symptoms they should quarantine, get clinically evaluated, and get tested if indicated.
The State of Tennessee’s Department of Health (“TDOH”) has adopted a position similar to the CDC. It recommends a 14-day quarantine but if there are no symptoms permits a 10-day quarantine without testing or a 7-day quarantine “if they test negative by a PCR or antigen test after Day 5.” TDOH also exempts certain individuals from quarantine. For example, fully vaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine if they have no symptoms after exposure (except for healthcare and certain group settings). Individuals who already had COVID-19 within the last 3 months are also exempt from quarantine if they recovered and remain without symptoms. Further, unvaccinated persons do not have to quarantine if they tested antibody positive within 3 months before or immediately after exposure, have had no symptoms, and have no contact with persons at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
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 Science Brief: Options to Reduce Quarantine for Contacts of Persons with SARS-CoV-2 Infection Using Symptom Monitoring and Diagnostic Testing (posted December 2, 2020), Centers for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/scientific-brief-options-to-reduce-quarantine.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fmore%2Fscientific-brief-options-to-reduce-quarantine.html. Individuals can only end quarantine prior to day 14 if there are no clinical signs of COVID-19 upon daily monitoring (which must continue through quarantine day 14), they are counseled about the need to strictly adhere to all mitigation strategies through quarantine day 14 and about what to do if symptoms develop, and if symptoms do develop they immediately quarantine and contact their healthcare provider or public health department. Id. OSHA guidance mirrors the CDC. See https://www.osha.gov/coronavirus/safework.
 Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People (updated Apr. 2, 2021), Centers for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html. An employee is “fully vaccinated” as of 2 weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or 2 weeks after Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine. See id.  “Releasing Cases and Contacts from Isolation and Quarantine,” Tennessee Department of Health, https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/health/documents/cedep/novel-coronavirus/Isolation-QuarantineRelease.pdf (Apr. 7, 2021). Individuals in Tennessee must be quarantined after exposure according to non-household or household contact guidance. See id. Basically, both methods follow the 14-, 7- and 10- day quarantine rules, but for household contact the first day of quarantine must be counted from the first day exposure is no longer occurring in the household (i.e., the day the person with COVID has completed quarantine or has completely separated from others in the house according to the Department of Health’s guidance). See id.
 Individuals are “fully vaccinated” if vaccinated 2 weeks prior to exposure with the single-dose vaccine or the second dose of a 2-dose vaccination series. See id. “Exposure” means contact with an individual with COVID two days prior to his symptom onset (or specimen collection date if no symptoms) through the end of his quarantine. See id. Vaccinated individuals not subject to quarantine should still self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after exposure, and if COVID-19 symptoms develop, must immediately isolate, be clinically evaluated, and be tested if indicated. The vaccination exemption to quarantine does not apply to healthcare personnel, patients, or residents in healthcare settings or non-healthcare congregate settings. See id. “Vaccinated healthcare personnel, patients, and residents in healthcare settings” must follow the CDC guidance at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/infection-control-after-vaccination.html. “Releasing Cases and Contacts from Isolation and Quarantine,” Tennessee Department of Health, https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/health/documents/cedep/novel-coronavirus/Isolation-QuarantineRelease.pdf. Vaccinated residents of non-healthcare congregate settings (e.g., group homes, correctional facilities, etc.) should quarantine for 14 days and be tested for COVID. Id.  See id. Individuals at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 include “older adults, pregnant people, and those with certain medical conditions (cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease [including COPD, asthma, interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension], dementia, diabetes (1 or 2), down syndrome, heart conditions [including heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies, or hypertension], HIV infection, immunocompromised state, liver disease, overweight and obesity, sickle cell/thalassemia, smoking (current/former), solid organ or blood stem cell transplant, stroke or cerebrovascular disease, substance use disorders.” Id.