By Jeremy M. Forgue and Erica E. Flores
On March 8, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released interim public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people. While the new guidance does relax certain COVID-19 safety protocols for those who have been fully vaccinated, it also urges that they continue to abide by mask-wearing and social distancing practices in most settings given continued uncertainty as to how long any of the three vaccines will protect recipients and how effective they are against emerging variants of the virus. We break it all down below.
What Are the CDC’s New Interim Recommendations?
According to the CDC’s new guidance, fully-vaccinated people can engage in three activities that depart substantially from existing safety standards. They can:
- Visit other fully-vaccinated people indoors, without wearing masks or physical distancing.
- Visit with unvaccinated people indoors if they are from a single household and are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease, without wearing masks or practicing social distancing.
- Refrain from quarantining or testing following a known exposure to the virus provided that they remain asymptomatic.
For purposes of these new recommendations, people are not considered fully-vaccinated until a full two weeks after they have received their second shot of a two-dose series (i.e., Pfizer and Moderna) or after they have received a single-dose vaccine (i.e., Johnson & Johnson). This means that people who have been vaccinated should not engage in the above activities until at least two weeks after they receive their last shot.
These recommendations reflect cautious optimism about the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines currently available in the United States but are far from a license to resume “normal” life. Indeed, the CDC still urges fully vaccinated people to:
- Wear masks and physically distance from others while they are out in public and when visiting unvaccinated people who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 disease
- Get tested if they experience symptoms of COVID-19
- Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings
- Follow the CDC’s travel requirements and recommendations along with any guidance issued by their employers.
According to the CDC, these precautions remain advisable even for fully vaccinated individuals because it is still unclear how long vaccine protection will last and how well the vaccines protect against existing and potential future COVID-19 variants.
What Does This Mean for the Workplace?
Employers who have implemented internal policies related to the pandemic may consider relieving fully vaccinated employees of the requirement to self-quarantine and/or get tested following known exposure to the virus, so long as they do not experience symptoms of COVID-19. Changes to screening protocols or telecommuting requirements may also be warranted.
Beyond that, however, the Baker administration has (so far) not released any updated guidance in light of the new CDC Interim Recommendations, which means that employers are still required to follow the mandatory safety standards, sector-specific protocols, best practices and other reopening guidance for Massachusetts workplaces. That guidance can be found here, and it does not make any exceptions to mask-wearing, social distancing, hygiene or other protocols for fully-vaccinated individuals.
If and when that changes, we will keep employers updated here on our blog. In the meantime, employers should remain vigilant about policing all COVID-19 safety standards in the workplace. Employees who have been vaccinated may not understand that the CDC’s new recommendations do not replace Massachusetts’ reopening standards for businesses and they may become increasingly lax about following the rules, which could lead to a complaint of non-compliance by a co-worker or member of the public and an investigation by the Local Board of Health or the Department of Labor Standards.
The Bottom Line
We have not yet arrived at our “new normal,” but as the CDC interim recommendations have laid out, in-person, private interactions are now much safer for those who have been fully vaccinated. As more employees in the workplace become vaccinated, employers should continue to revise their own workplace policies and rules provided that they are consistent with the state-mandated safety protocols for the current phase of the reopening plan. If you would like to discuss revising workplace policies or other concerns regarding workplace safety or the vaccine, please reach out to our office. Any one of our knowledgeable attorneys will be happy to assist.