CDC Releases Comprehensive Coronavirus Guidance

Nancy Cleeland By Nancy Cleeland May 21, 2020

​Detailed guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week sets out criteria for reopening the economy and tracking coronavirus cases, with specific instructions for child care centers, schools and day camps, restaurants and bars, mass transit, and all employers with high-risk workers.

The 60-page guidance document includes links to the extensive materials already developed by the CDC, other federal agencies and professional associations on social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing, worker safety, testing, and contact tracing. The CDC also offers more detailed criteria for opening parts of the economy based on the now-familiar three-phase approach that starts with a sustained decline of cases.

However, the agency warned that some form of mitigation will be necessary across all businesses "until a vaccine or therapeutic drug becomes widely available."

Perhaps of most interest to employers is the final 20-page appendix with sections that spell out measures for reopening and maintaining safety in the five specified workplace settings.

For example, the four-page section on schools and camps includes the recommendation to "ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible by having the same group of children stay with the same staff" during the first two reopening phases. In the third phase, the CDC relaxes its advice a bit but still suggests that schools "consider keeping classes together to include the same group of children each day, and consider keeping the same child care providers with the same group each day" to contain any possible spread of the virus.

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Coronavirus and COVID-19

Workers at High Risk

The document advises all employers to attempt to identify workers who may be at high risk, including those older than 65 and those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, but to tread carefully.

"Workers at higher risk for severe illness should be encouraged to self-identify, and employers should avoid making unnecessary medical inquiries," the document advised. "Employers should take particular care to reduce workers' risk of exposure to COVID-19, while making sure to be compliant with relevant Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) regulations."

Any high-risk workers should work from home or "shelter in place" rather than report to the workplace until the third and final phase of reopening, the CDC said. Employers should also consider assigning high-risk workers to "duties that minimize their contact with customers and other employees (e.g., restocking shelves rather than working as a cashier), if agreed to by the worker."

In addition, the agency advised all businesses that reopen to:

  • Enforce hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and using cloth face coverings when around others where feasible.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least daily and avoid use or sharing of items that are not easily cleaned, sanitized or disinfected.
  • Ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible, such as by opening windows and doors.
  • Consider daily health checks and plan for when an employee becomes ill.
  • Provide telework options to employees who would commute in from areas with high rates of infection.
  • Implement flexible sick leave and other flexible policies and practices if feasible.

Reopening Restaurants and Bars

Under the CDC guidance, restaurants would offer only takeout or delivery throughout the first phase of reopening, which should not end until there is a "downward trajectory (or near-zero incidence) of documented cases for at least 14 days after entering Phase 1." At that point, restaurants and bars could reopen with limited seating capacity. In the third phase, more customers would be allowed inside, but establishments would still have to maintain social distancing until a vaccine or therapeutic drug is widely available.

Eating and drinking establishments were also advised to:

  • Avoid using or sharing items such as menus, condiments and any other food. Instead, use disposable or digital menus, single-serving condiments, and no-touch trash cans and doors.
  • Use disposable food service items (utensils and dishes). If disposable items are not feasible, ensure that all nondisposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher.
  • Put individual disinfectant wipes in bathrooms.
  • Avoid buffets and salad bars.
  • Continue to encourage takeout and delivery even in the third phase.

Making Child Care Available

The CDC noted that the availability of child care is key to a smooth reopening of the economy. "The gradual scale up of activities towards pre-COVID-19 operating practices at child care programs is crucial to helping parents and guardians return to work. Many states have closed schools for the academic year and, with summer quickly approaching, an increasing number of working parents may need to rely on these programs."

However, in areas of continuing coronavirus transmissions, centers should not reopen except to care for the children of employees deemed to be essential. Not until the second phase, after two weeks of little or no community spread, should centers reopen, and then only with enhanced social-distancing measures, including face coverings for all staff. Even in the final phase, until a vaccine or therapeutic drug is available, centers should minimize sharing of books, toys or food.

Child care centers should plan for when a child, staff member or visitor becomes sick, and close off any areas used by that person for 24 hours before cleaning and sanitizing.

Coordinate with State and Local Health Authorities

Throughout the document, the CDC urges employers to contact and coordinate with state and local health officials, including in following its own recommendations. The CDC also shows how it is working with states, local jurisdictions and other federal agencies to increase testing and reporting to better understand the extent of infection, how the disease spreads and risk factors for severe disease.

The document also describes how the federal agency is working with state and local health authorities to monitor the capacity of hospitals and long-term care facilities, and offers guidance to other health authorities on testing, both for the virus and for antibodies that could indicate immunity.



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