Katherine T. McCarley
NYSDOH Shortened Isolation Period Guidance Limited to Healthcare Workers
Updated: Jan 10, 2022
On December 23, 2021, the Center for Disease and Control Prevention (“CDC”) updated its guidance on the isolation of healthcare and other essential workers – the “Interim Guidance for Managing Healthcare Personnel with SARS-CoV-2 Infection or Exposure to SARS-CoV-2” and “Strategies to Mitigate Healthcare Personnel Staffing Shortages.” Doing the same, the New York State Department of Health (“NYSDOH”) issued an advisory regarding the same on December 24, 2021. However, on December 27, 2021, CDC issued a press release sharing new isolation and quarantine recommendations. In turn, on January 4, 2022, NYSDOH issued updated guidance for the general public and declared the essential worker portion of its shortened isolation guidance overruled. However, the healthcare worker portions remain in effect, which is outlined below.
Healthcare Workers Shortened Isolation Period Guidance
NYSDOH expects an increase of mild or asymptomatic cases in fully vaccinated persons because of recent rates of positive COVID-19 cases. Recall that ‘fully vaccinated persons’ is defined as individuals who have either completed one dose of Janssen or two doses of an mRNA vaccine at least two weeks before the day the person became symptomatic or, if asymptomatic, the day of their first positive specimen. NYSDOH updated its policy after reviewing data from other variants, including Delta, which suggests vaccinated persons’ duration of infection is less than that of unvaccinated persons. NYSDOH also acknowledges current isolation periods have had the effect of substantially impacting critical services like healthcare. Its updated policy applies to fully vaccinated healthcare staff in an effort to ensure appropriate staffing is maintained in healthcare facilities.
The shortened isolation period can only be applied where there is a critical staffing shortage. Employers are permitted to allow a person to return to work after day 5 of an individual’s isolation period. Day 0 is defined as either (1) the date of symptom onset, if symptomatic, or (2) the date of the person’s first positive test results, if asymptomatic. However, when not at work, individuals must quarantine at home, taking precautions to avoid household transmission until the end of a 10-day timespan. Healthcare workers who are moderately to severely immunocompromised are not eligible to return to work under this guidance.
The shortened isolation period only applies to certain employees if:
The person is a healthcare worker;
The person is fully vaccinated;
The person is asymptomatic or has mild symptoms showing improvement; and
The person is able to wear a (1) well-fitted surgical face mask, (2) higher-level mask such as a KN95, or (3) a fit-tested N95 respirator, while at work.
Fully vaccinated healthcare workers that return to work under this policy, must not have:
A fever for at least 72 hours, without the aid of a fever-reducing medication;
Symptoms or have improving residual mild symptoms;
A runny nose; and
More than a minimal, non-productive cough (cannot cough up phlegm)
Individuals returning to work under this policy are instructed that:
They should always practice social distancing from coworkers except when job duties do not permit such distancing;
If they must remove their respirator or well-fitted face mask, they should separate themselves from others; and
They should self-monitor for symptoms and seek re-evaluation from an occupational healthcare provider or their personal healthcare provider if symptoms recur or worsen.
Table 1.1. Examples of Affected Healthcare Workers and Settings
If you are interested in NYSDOH’s guidance relating to isolation and quarantine, an explanation of these updated recommendations can be found here.
If you have any questions regarding this article, or if you have any Labor & Employment Law concerns, please contact the Underberg & Kessler attorney who regularly handles your legal matters or Katherine T. McCarley, the author of this piece, here or at (585)258-2820.
 See Table 1.1 Examples of Affected Healthcare Workers for a non-exhaustive list of healthcare workers and settings affected by this policy.