May 14, 2020

CDC Guidance Aids Response Planning for Critical Infrastructure Sectors During COVID-19

CDC has released guidance intended to help employers in critical infrastructure sectors continue operations to the greatest extent possible during the global COVID-19 pandemic. While it is vital that all employers and workers take steps to prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces, including by social distancing, it is especially important to keep critical infrastructure functioning during the response to COVID-19. CDC has recognized sixteen critical infrastructure sectors, including emergency services and healthcare, for which operations must be maintained for public health and safety as well as community well-being.

Employers should prepare to respond flexibly to changing levels of community disease transmission and alter their response plans as needed. When creating or updating a coronavirus response plan, employers in critical sectors should first follow CDC’s general interim guidance for all businesses and employers responding to COVID-19. Employers must also comply with OSHA’s requirements for protecting critical infrastructure workers on the job.

While following the CDC guidance, employers in critical industries should endeavor to maintain healthy business operations, reduce transmission among employees and the public, and maintain a healthy work environment. The first of these includes reintegrating exposed but asymptomatic critical workers to on-site operations, although CDC stresses that reintegration may not be the most appropriate option in managing critical work tasks; home isolation may still be the most preferred option for exposed workers. Employers should also minimize the number of workers onsite to the greatest possible extent, anticipate and monitor staff absences due to illness, and provide special accommodations, such as telework, to vulnerable workers.

To reduce illness transmission, employers should actively encourage sick employees to stay home and immediately send home any employee who becomes sick during the day. Employees should not return to work until they meet CDC's recommended conditions for leaving home isolation. The agency urges employers to pre-screen employees, monitor exposed workers, and consult with an occupational health provider or local health officials to ensure that medical monitoring is conducted correctly. Other measures that can help reduce transmission include requiring exposed employees to wear a facemask or cloth face covering, implementing social distancing, and educating employees on how they can reduce the spread of COVID-19. Finally, employers can maintain a healthy workplace by improving ventilation in rooms, modifying workspaces to ensure that employees always remain at least six feet apart, closing common areas, and increasing the frequency of cleaning.

CDC’s guidance for COVID-19 critical infrastructure sector response planning is available on the agency’s website. This is a difficult time, and many employees will experience mental stress in addition to physical illness. CDC also has resources on coping with job stress related to COVID-19.