The Workplace Routine

For many, getting back to work is a long-awaited blessing. However, as we have seen COVID-19 cases spike across Ohio over the last several days, business-as-usual it is not. More employers and employees are working to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and are attempting to understand how to properly respond to COVID-19 incidents.

Although resources related to handling COVID-19 are vast, many employers continue to be unsure of what is necessary to minimize risk to employees and others. For that reason, we thought it may be helpful to bottom-line some workplace best practices, particularly for responding to situations where someone has been in “close contact” with a person or persons with COVID-19.

Download the Employer COVID-19 Checklist

First of all, where did we get our information?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has developed a raft of guidelines to address responding to possible exposure to COVID-19. We additionally consulted the resources available to assist employers through the Ohio Department of Health dedicated Coronavirus website.

Who can you trust?

Unfortunately, we have a pandemic that has been politicized creating a lot of hyper-partisan back and forth. Ultimately, this has led to a confusing landscape with people unsure of what to listen to and who to trust. The State of Ohio has gone through great lengths to help employers and employees in every field understand how to implement and innovate under the threat of COVID-19.

What is “close contact” with COVID-19?

The CDC has issued guidance regarding the proper response to situations where an individual has been in “close contact” with a person with COVID-19, which they updated in late September 2020. “Close contact” is defined by both the CDC as spending at least 15 minutes within six feet of a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or a direct exposure to possibly infected droplets of saliva or nasal mucus (e.g., being sneezed or coughed on in the face).

“Close Contact” Bottom Line

  • If a person does not have COVID-19 symptoms but has had “close contact”, the person should remain in self-quarantine at home for 14 days from the last exposure if the person has tested negative (or has not been tested);
  • If the person has a positive test but no symptoms, he or she should stay home in quarantine for 10 days after the test.
  • If a person has had both close contact and COVID-19 symptoms, the person (regardless of COVID-19 test results) should stay in self-isolation for at least 10 days since the onset of symptoms and until at least 24 hours have passed with no fever (without medications) and with the improvement of the other symptoms.
  • In addition to the above, new therapeutics are hitting treatment facilities showing merit for shortening the cycle. If in doubt, trust your health professionals to provide guidance on when it is safe to return to work.
Download the Potentially Exposed? Checklist

“But, I was wearing a mask”…

Just because an employee was wearing a mask when they came in “close contact” does not mean they can skip quarantine procedures. While wearing a mask aids in the fight to control COVID-19, the CDC guidance does not give one a “pass” from the quarantine requirements due to the fact that one was wearing a mask when in close contact with a person with COVID-19.  The same quarantine requirements still apply.

“But, I tested negative”…

Many employers are asking that employees that have been in “close contact” to be tested before returning to work. While this is a good step, it has caused some confusion. Given that the virus can develop and symptoms may not appear for up to fourteen days post-exposure; being exposed and then testing negative the next day does not mean an employee is in the clear. Simply put, even if an employee tests negative for COVID-19 or feels healthy, they should quarantine if they have been in “close contact” with someone with COVID-19. Today’s negative test can become tomorrow’s positive test.

“I vacationed or traveled to a hot spot, now what?”

Hot spots are popping up in a variety of areas across the country. If an employee travels for personal or professional reasons to a COVID-19 hot spot (classified as such due to the high rate of spread in the area), a traveler is exempt from the self-quarantine requirement if he or she has had a negative COVID-19 test in the seventy-two (72) hours prior to arrival back in Ohio or since returning.  However, if while visiting a hot spot a person was in “close contact” with someone with COVID-19, then it is recommended to follow the CDC guidelines for potential exposure.

More Resources Available

Ohio Department of Health, as mentioned at the top of this post, has assembled many resources for employers. With the September 14th law, HB 606, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine provided employers legal protections when it comes to their efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19, making Ohio one of a growing number of states granting similar civil immunity. However, it is important to note, HB 606 does not offer blanket protection for employers, as it additionally provides protections for employees who can prove “reckless disregard for consequences” by an employer.

One particularly useful area of resources on the Ohio Department of Health website is a section dedicated to common questions around COVID-19, as well as a number of downloadable checklists and employer resources. We would encourage you to check that out: COVID-19 Checklists