March 25, 2020

CDC Releases Return-to-Work Criteria for Healthcare Professionals with COVID-19

CDC has released interim guidelines intended to aid state and local occupational health programs and public health officials in making decisions about the return to work of healthcare professionals with known or suspected COVID-19. The guidelines include options based on whether a COVID-19 test is performed.

The test-based strategy recommends that healthcare professionals do not return to work until their fever has subsided without the use of fever-reducing medication; their respiratory symptoms, including cough and shortness of breath, have improved; and they have received negative results from a COVID-19 test approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration, which requires at least two consecutive nasopharyngeal swab specimens collected at least 24 hours apart.

The non-test-based strategy recommends that affected healthcare professionals return to work after at least three days have passed since the resolution of their fevers and improvement of their respiratory symptoms, and at least seven days have passed since their symptoms first appeared.

After returning to work, affected healthcare professionals should always wear facemasks in the healthcare facility, until all symptoms are resolved or 14 days pass since the onset of symptoms, whichever is longer; avoid contact with immunocompromised patients for the same 14-day period; follow CDC’s guidelines on personal hygiene and cough etiquette; and monitor themselves for respiratory symptoms, seeking reevaluation from occupational health if they reoccur or worsen.

CDC recommends that decisions about healthcare professionals’ returning to work should take local circumstances into account. For example, healthcare systems and health authorities may determine that affected healthcare professionals should go back to work earlier than CDC recommends due to staffing shortages in a particular area. In situations like these, healthcare professionals should be first evaluated by occupational health, and follow the same return-to-work practices and restrictions described above to protect others, including immunocompromised patients.