On Tuesday, March 24, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued interim guidance on criteria that can be used to determine whether a healthcare professional with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 should return to work. The CDC states that this criteria can be further “adapted by state and local health departments to respond to rapidly changing local circumstances.”

Based on the availability of tests, the CDC recommends that “occupational health programs and public health officials” that decide if a healthcare professional can return to work choose between two strategies. The two strategies are: a test-based strategy or a non-test-based strategy. Under the test-based strategy, healthcare professionals should not return to work until they no longer have to use “fever-reducing medications” to lessen a fever, their respiratory symptoms from COVID-19 have improved, and they receive two negative test results. Under the non-test-based strategy, healthcare professionals should not return to work until “at least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since recovery” and “at least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.” The CDC defines “since recovery” as “resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms.”

The CDC also provides advice in this interim guidance for healthcare professionals who return to work after they were suspected to have or had COVID-19. When a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 healthcare professional returns to work, the CDC explains that these healthcare professionals should wear a mask until they no longer have COVID-19 symptoms or it has been “14 days after illness onset, whichever is longer.” In addition, these healthcare professionals are supposed to monitor their symptoms to make sure it is appropriate for them to be at work and they should not care for severely immunocompromised patients until 14 days have passed since their COVID-19 symptoms first appeared.

In addition, if “healthcare systems, healthcare facilities, and the appropriate state, local, territorial, and/or tribal health authorities” determine this interim guidance should not be followed, then the CDC recommends that the returning healthcare professional be examined by “occupational health to determine appropriateness of earlier return to work than recommended” and that these healthcare professionals follow the advice in this interim guidance for healthcare professionals who return to work.

This interim guidance differs from the CDC’s March 7 interim guidance that stated that “facilities could consider allowing asymptomatic healthcare professionals” who have been exposed to COVID-19 to keep working if options for other healthcare staff have been “exhausted.”

Norton Rose Fulbright attorneys will continue to provide relevant updates on the Health Law Pulse for healthcare facilities and professionals during the COVID-19 outbreak.