CDC Guidance on Worker Exposure to COVID-19 in Critical Infrastructure Businesses

April 9, 2020Alerts

In their efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, many states have issued executive orders mandating that non-essential businesses shut down temporarily. Essential businesses, however, are generally permitted to remain operational, provided social distancing and sanitation measures are followed. See e.g. Indiana Executive Order 20-18.

In defining “Essential Business,” many states include “Critical Infrastructure" as defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency in a guidance dated March 19, 2020, and revised on March 28, 2020 (CISA List). The CISA list identifies 16 Critical Infrastructure Sectors: chemical, commercial facilities, communications, critical manufacturing, dams, defense industrial base, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, healthcare and public health, information technology, nuclear reactors, transportation, and water and wastewater. Businesses/operations in these sectors support necessary and essential functions during this national crisis.

Responding to Worker Exposures

However, what should Critical Infrastructure businesses do if their workers are exposed to COVID-19? Since they are essential businesses, shutting down and sending all workers home may not be appropriate. The CDC recognizes this and has recently issued an Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19.

To ensure continuity of operations of essential functions, the CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue to work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions (discussed below) are implemented to protect them and the community.

A potential exposure means being a household contact or having close contact within 6 feet of an individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. The CDC says that the timeframe for having contact with an individual includes the period of time of 48 hours before the individual became symptomatic. Information on persons who had contact with the ill employee during the time the employee had symptoms and 2 days prior to symptoms should be compiled. Others at the facility with close contact within 6 feet of the employee during this time would be considered exposed.

According to the CDC, Critical Infrastructure workers who have had an exposure but remain asymptomatic should adhere to the following practices prior to and during their work shift:

Pre-Screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature (in a non-invasive fashion) and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.

Regular Monitoring: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms (i.e. fever, cough, shortness of breath), they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.

Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.

Social Distancing: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.

Disinfect and Clean Work Spaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.

If the employee becomes sick during the day, they should be sent home immediately. Surfaces in their workspace should be cleaned and disinfected.

Employers should also implement the recommendations in the Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 to help prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should also adhere to the guidance of their local health departments, if applicable.

For additional guidance for all employers, Critical Infrastructure or otherwise, please see our guidance on what employers should do when an employee contracts COVID-19.

For more information, please contact Lucy Li at 609.896.3600 or at[email protected], or any member of Fox Rothschild LLP’s Labor & Employment Department.