On August 11th, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released updated COVID-19 guidance for virus mitigation. In brief, the CDC is trimming its overall guidance to match the current state of the pandemic. The CDC’s streamlined, updated COVID-19 guidance will help individuals gain a better understanding of the current risk of COVID-19 and the best measures to protect themselves and others. Meanwhile, employers should still take some specific measures to keep workers and the public safe. Additionally, covered employers in high-risk industries are still subject to targeted inspections. In July 2022, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) extended its COVID-19 national emphasis program for high-risk industries.
Background of the Updated COVID-19 Guidance
While COVID-19 continues to circulate across the globe, access to vaccines has reduced COVID-19 severity on average. According to the CDC, cases of severe illness, hospitalization, and death related to COVID-19 are significantly lower than early in the pandemic. In August 2022, the CDC reported that 78.9% of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Meanwhile, the 7-day daily average hospitalization rate at the beginning of August was 6,003, down 2.6% from the prior 7-day average. The updated COVID-19 guidance reflects the coronavirus’s decreased severity and the virus mitigation tools the public has access to.
COVID-19 Guidance for Virus Mitigation
Still, the updated COVID-19 guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not yet over. Rather, the guidance explores ways to mitigate the effects of the pandemic without disrupting daily life activities. In brief, the guidance helps individuals prevent medically significant COVID-19 cases resulting in severe illness or death by identifying risk factors and encouraging vaccination. Additionally, it covers therapeutics, non-pharmaceutical options, symptomatic testing, mask-wearing after exposure, and isolation for at least five days if infected. According to the CDC’s updated COVID-19 guidance:
- Staying up-to-date with vaccine boosters as they become available is very effective against serious illness, hospitalization, and death.
- Those exposed to COVID-19 should mask for ten days when around others and get tested on day five but do not need to quarantine.
- Asymptomatic individuals without known exposures no longer need to undergo screening testing in most community settings.
- Individuals should still consider the risk in any particular setting, including the amount of ventilation and COVID-19 community levels.
While the updated COVID-19 guidance loosened some restrictions, employers need to continue to mitigate biological hazards like COVID-19 in the workplace. This holds especially true for those in industries at high risk for COVID-19 exposure. The following are a few key takeaways for general industry employers:
- Screening asymptomatic employees may no longer be necessary. However, those in congregate housing and with limited access to health care may still benefit from screening.
- Contact tracing is now only necessary in health care settings and high-risk congregate settings. However, employers should still notify individuals about possible exposure to COVID-19.
- Follow previous vaccine and masking guidelines, informed by COVID-19 community levels, as these remained unchanged.
In conclusion, OSHA may still levy significant penalties against employers that do not follow COVID-19 safety protocols or put workers at significant risk for COVID-19 infection. While OSHA has yet to update its own COVID-19 guidance, they are apt to follow CDC guidance until they do.