The CDC’s Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers
On April 8, 2020, the CDC posted new interim guidance entitled “Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19.” The interim guidance applies only to “critical infrastructure workers” as identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (“CISA”) in its March 28 (Version 2.0) “Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in COVID-19 Response Version 2.0” (“CISA Guidance”). A poster distilling the guidance is available here.
The CISA Guidance, on which the CDC’s new interim guidance relies, was issued to support industry partners in identifying critical infrastructure sectors and essential workers needed to maintain services, noting that “certain critical infrastructure industries have a special responsibility in these times to continue operations.” Although not binding in its own right, it was developed to “help State, local, tribal, and territorial officials as they work to protect their communities, while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.” Accordingly, many state and local jurisdictions have incorporated, or cited approvingly, the CISA Guidance in their stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders.
The CDC, in its interim guidance, acknowledges that critical infrastructure workers are necessary to “ensure continuity of operations of essential functions.” As a result, the CDC has now said that critical infrastructure workers who have had a potential exposure are not required to self-isolate if they are asymptomatic. Instead, critical infrastructure workers may continue to work following potential exposure, as long as they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented.
Specifically, the CDC recommends that if a critical infrastructure worker has had an exposure to COVID-19 (defined as being a household contact or close contact within six feet of an individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, including 48 hours prior to the individual becoming symptomatic) the following measures should be adopted:
- Adopt Pre-Screening: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to starting work.
- Monitoring: The employee should self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath).
- Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a face mask in the workplace for 14 days after the exposure.
- Maintain Social Distancing: The employee should practice social distancing and remain six feet from others.
- Disinfect and Clean: The employer should clean and disinfect all areas, especially high-touch surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, counters, bathrooms, shared equipment, etc.) on a routine basis.
Should an employee become sick, the employer should send the employee home immediately, clean and disinfect their workplace in accordance with CDC guidance, and collect information on individuals who had contact with the employee (i.e., others at the facility within close contact of the employee) so they may be notified of potential exposure.
Ultimately, employers should review, understand, and implement CDC and OSHA recommendations regarding methods to protect employees, including social distancing, routine cleaning, sanitation, and hygiene. However, although the CDC guidance is an important guide to good practices, we note that some jurisdictions are requiring more specific steps with regard to worker health and safety.1 It is critical that employers review and understand any state and local orders that may also apply to their workforce.