As announced at the White House Press Briefing on the evening of April 8, 2020, yesterday, the Center for Disease Control has modified their guidelines for First Responders that may have been exposed to individuals infected with COVID-19. The new guidelines that were most recently posted on the CDC’s Website are meant to assist agencies in “ensuring continuity of operations of essential functions.” Based on this premonition, the CDC now advises that critical infrastructure workers (which includes First Responders) may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.
In accordance with the guidelines, 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 time frame for having contact or exposure with an individual is defined as 48 hours before the individual became symptomatic.
Based on this new guidance, if a First Responder has been exposed in accordance with the two criteria listed above, but remains asymptomatic, the employer may make the decision of sending the employee back to work so long as the following procedures and precautionary measures are taken both prior and during their work shift:
- The First Responder must be Pre-Screened prior to the Start of the Shift: Employers must measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to the start of the work shift. Temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
- The First Responder must be Regularly Monitored During the Shift: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
- The First Responder Must Wear a Mask during the Work Shift: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure.
- The First Responder must Practice Social Distancing: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
- The Employer must Disinfect and Clean Work Spaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.
It is incredibly important to recognize that these guidelines are a departure from the CDC’s previous guidelines which mandated that all employees exposed to an individual that is confirmed positive for COVID-19 self quarantine for period of fourteen (14) days. Political Pundits have stated that these new guidelines were put in place as a response to the growing shortage of critical infrastructure employees due to the fourteen (14) day “exposure” quarantine period as well as this is the Trump Administration’s first action of bringing “exposed” employees back into the workforce sooner rather than later.
However in light of these new guidelines, First Responders, must remember the following:
- Implementing the change in the policy is not mandatory. In other words, your employer can continue following the previous guidelines of self quarantining all employees that had direct exposure with an individual that has been confirmed positive for COVID-19. With that being said, if the employer does choose to implement the new guidelines it will be much harder for us to enforce the old guidelines for local employees (County and Municipal).
- If your employer chooses to follow the new guidelines, the demand for employer provided PPE is now more important than ever as the chance of infection will become greater. Based on this fact, employers must do whatever is necessary to source the proper PPE.
- First Responders that have been exposed must be tested immediately. The New Jersey State P.B.A. has located and identified Testing Facilities that are dedicated to First Responders. These facilities are open to all Law Enforcement Officers, not just PBA members. Therefore, if you are a First Responder and you have been exposed to a person that has tested positive for COVID-19, get a test as soon as possible. This is especially true if your Department adopts and implements the new CDC guidelines referenced in this Article.
As Always, thank you for your service and please stay safe and healthy out there.