Update on OSHA’s COVID Emergency Rule for Healthcare – And How It Affects the Vaccinate-or-Test ETS

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Last week, on December 27th, OSHA announced the withdrawal of most of its COVID-19 ETS for Healthcare, which was the first of the two COVID-19 emergency temporary standards OSHA issued in the first year of the Biden Administration.

This Healthcare ETS was issued back in June 2021 in response to President Biden’s Day 1 OSHA Executive Order.  Recall that this was the ETS that had been crafted by OSHA to apply to all employers in all industries, but as it was being finalized in late Spring, when it looked like we might just be approaching the end of the pandemic, the Administration decided to narrow the scope to just the healthcare industry.  That ETS was what we call a “programmatic” standard; requiring the development of a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention program, complete with an array of required engineering and administrative controls.  When the Healthcare ETS was issued, OSHA noted on its webpage for the ETS that it expected the ETS to be in effect for six months from the date of publication — until December 21, 2021.

December 21st came and went without any word from OSHA.  But on Monday of last week, , six days after the Healthcare ETS’s six-month anniversary, OSHA issued a statement that:

“[while OSHA] intends to continue to work expeditiously to issue a final standard that will protect healthcare workers from COVID-19 hazards, and will do so as it also considers its broader infectious disease rulemaking[,]” it is “withdrawing the non-recordkeeping portions of the healthcare ETS. The COVID-19 log and reporting provisions … remain in effect.”

Here is the full statement posted on OSHA’s Healthcare ETS webpage:

Why Did OSHA Withdraw Portions of the Healthcare ETS? Continue reading

CDC Relaxes Isolation and Quarantine Recommendations – How Does That Affect OSHA’s Vaccinate-or-Test ETS?

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On December 27, 2021, the CDC updated and shortened its recommended isolation and quarantine periods for the general population.  To be precise, yesterday CDC issued a media statement laying out its new guidance, but CDC’s actual Isolation Guidance webpage has not yet been updated.  CDC explained in the statement that:

“[b]oth updates [to the isolation and quarantine periods] come as the Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the U.S. and reflects the current science on when and for how long a person is maximally infectious.”

What are CDC’s New Isolation and Quarantine Guidelines? 

With respect to isolation (which relates to behavior after a confirmed infection), CDC states:

“[g]iven what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others.”

Explaining the change, CDC maintains that it is “motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and 2-3 days after. Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days, and if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.”

Additionally, with respect to quarantine (which refers to the time following exposure to the virus or close contact with someone known to have COVID-19), CDC states: Continue reading

Cal/OSHA Standards Board to Consider Revised COVID-19 Emergency Rule for Re-adoption

CaptureThe Cal/OSHA Standards Board has issued a revised draft of the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) for a second re-adoption.  This draft shows in underlined text the latest proposed changes from the current emergency regulation (not the October draft text discussed in our prior blog post).  The second re-adoption of the ETS, if adopted, will be effective from January 14, 2022 to April 14, 2022, and then could be replaced by a “permanent” COVID-19 rule.

At its December 16, 2021 meeting, the Standards Board will consider this proposed revised ETS, as well as discuss the proposed “permanent” COVID-19 rule being considered to replace the ETS once the emergency rule expires.

Below are the areas where the ETS text proposed for a second re-adoption materially departs from the current rule: Continue reading

CDC Updates Return-to-Work Guidance Again – Reduces Quarantine Time

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we noted in a Client Alert last month, the CDC issued its new guidance for “Close Contacts” in a way that would make quarantine circumstances much more likely; i.e., CDC’s new definition of close contact makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, rather than just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.

Creating even more challenges for maintaining adequate staffing, the CDC issued additional guidance in November limiting the flexibility to keep asymptomatic critical infrastructure workers at work after a close contact exposure:

Employers may consider allowing exposed and asymptomatic critical infrastructure workers to continue to work in select instances when it is necessary to preserve the function of critical infrastructure workplaces. This option should be used 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.

Those two changes combined to make staffing a real challenge as we move firmly into the second big wave of COVID-19 cases.

Perhaps because of those challenges, today, the CDC issued new guidance that would reduce the duration of many quarantines from 14 days to 10 days and, in some cases to 7 days.  Specifically, CDC identified the following options as acceptable alternatives to a 14-day quarantine:

  • Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring.
  • If testing is available, then quarantine can end after Day 7 if a respiratory specimen tests negative and no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.  The specimen may be collected and tested within 48 hours before the time of planned quarantine discontinuation (e.g., in anticipation of testing delays), but quarantine cannot be discontinued earlier than after Day 7; i.e., testing should be initiated no earlier than Day 5 after the close contact exposure occurs. Continue reading

Important COVID-19 Update: “Close Contact” Redefined to Mean 15 Cumulative Minutes

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We want to alert you to a significant COVID-19 development out of the CDC yesterday.  Specifically, the CDC just announced a material revision to its definition of “Close Contact.”  The new definition makes it explicit that the 15-minute exposure period (i.e., within 6-feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes) should be assessed based on a cumulative amount of time over 24 hours, not just a single, continuous 15-minute interaction.

Here is the new definition included on the CDC’s website:

Close Contact – Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

* Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). Data are limited, making it difficult to precisely define “close contact;” however, 15 cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of 6 feet or less can be used as an operational definition for contact investigation. Factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity (closer distance likely increases exposure risk), the duration of exposure (longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the infected individual has symptoms (the period around onset of symptoms is associated with the highest levels of viral shedding), if the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols (e.g., was coughing, singing, shouting), and other environmental factors (crowding, adequacy of ventilation, whether exposure was indoors or outdoors). Because the general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95, the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE.  At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using fabric face coverings is not recommended.​

CDC’s revised view of what constitutes a Close Contact is based on an exposure study at a correctional facility.  Here is the CDC’s public notice about the correctional facility analysis.  The analysis apparently revealed that virus was spread to a 20-year-old prison employee who interacted with individuals who later tested positive for the virus, after 22 interactions that took place over 17 minutes during an eight-hour shift.  

An important consequence of this revision is the impact it will have on employers’ ability to maintain staffing because it establishes a much lower threshold trigger for required quarantine.  Recall that

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