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CDC Changes Quarantine Guidelines For Those Exposed to COVID-19 Virus

Dec 07, 2020

The CDC has recently issued changes to its COVID-19 quarantine recommendations, as well as its guidance for travelers who are not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

Quarantine and Exposure

The most recent CDC guidance says someone who has been in close contact with an infected person needs to quarantine, unless the exposed person already had COVID-19 within the past 3 months. Generally, the exposed person should quarantine at home for 14 days after their last contact with a person who has COVID-19. However, the CDC now has two options for how long quarantine should last for asymptomatic people. If an asymptomatic person is never tested for COVID-19, they can end their quarantine after 10 days. If an asymptomatic person is tested for COVID-19 and is negative, that person may end their quarantine 7 days after the exposure. The exposed asymptomatic person should still continue to self-monitor for symptoms for the full 14 days after exposure and, if they develop symptoms, immediately self-isolate and contact their local public health authority or healthcare provider. Notwithstanding these relaxed timeframes for asymptomatic people, the CDC explicitly continues to endorse 14-day quarantine periods and will continue to evaluate new information and update its recommendations.

New Jersey has incorporated the CDC recommendations for essential retail businesses. Executive Order 122 requires essential retail businesses to “[c]ontinue to follow guidelines and directives issued by the New Jersey Department of Health, the CDC and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, as applicable, for maintaining a clean, safe and healthy work environment.” (Executive Order. 122, para. 4(d)). By virtue of incorporation, the CDC recommendations are imbued with authority in New Jersey, because to violate an Executive Order is to violate the law. Consequently, quarantine for exposed asymptomatic people can be relaxed to conform to the new CDC recommendations outlined above. It is important to note that exposed people should continue to be vigilant and self-monitor for symptoms for a full 14 days after a known exposure.

Quarantine and Travel

The CDC advises that a 14-day stay-at-home period after travel almost eliminates the risk of transmission but also acknowledges that this can be burdensome, resulting in poor compliance. The CDC suggests that a 7-day stay-at-home period with testing 3-4 days post-travel is optimal and decreases the burden of quarantine. Even with a negative test, the asymptomatic traveler should quarantine for 7 days. Without testing, an asymptomatic traveler could opt to stay home for 7-10 days and still reduce the risk of post-travel transmission if they have COVID-19. Though not endorsed as a best practice, the CDC acknowledges that non-quarantining travelers should get tested 1-3 days after returning to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

New Jersey’s travel advisory is more stringent than the new CDC recommendations. New Jersey has also recently modified its travel advisory: now, any traveler or resident returning from a U.S. state or territory beyond the immediate region (New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware) is encouraged to self-quarantine for 14 days. The same exceptions (those in impacted states who simply passed through the course of travel, business travel and those traveling to New Jersey and work in critical infrastructure fields) apply.

There is some contradiction among the travel advisories and recommendations, and the interplay between New Jersey requirements and CDC recommendations is unclear. It should be noted that the travel advisory was never the subject of an Executive Order, meaning, as the travel advisory itself says, the self-quarantine is voluntary, “but compliance is expected.” As noted above, Executive Order 122 incorporates CDC recommendations for keeping essential retail businesses safe, clean and healthy. But, as the CDC notes at the outset of its new quarantine recommendations, “[l]ocal public health authorities determine and establish the quarantine options for their jurisdictions,” not the CDC. This aspect of the CDC recommendations points the reader back to New Jersey’s recommendations for quarantine. A cautious interpretation of these labyrinthine recommendations would lead to the conclusion that the best practice would be a 14-day quarantine following travel, because the New Jersey travel advisory still asks travelers to quarantine for 14 days, and the CDC maintains that this is still the option that almost eliminates post-travel transmission.