On August 21, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its COVID-19 travel guidelines, removing the blanket 14-day quarantine recommendation for travelers returning from all international destinations. While the revised guidelines caution that returning travelers may pose a risk for up to 14 days if they were exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the CDC recommends that individuals take the following precautions after returning from travel, regardless of the travel destination:
When around others, stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people who are not from your household. It is important to do this everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.
Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when you are outside of your home.
Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
Watch your health and look for symptoms of COVID-19. Take your temperature if you feel sick.
In effect, the CDC is exchanging its broad guidance applicable to all international travel for more fact-specific guidance, noting that additional precautions may be prudent if travel involved “higher risk activities.” Specifically, if an individual traveled to an area “experiencing high levels of COVID-19 spread,” was on a cruise ship or river boat, or engaged in activities such as large social gatherings or attending a large event, the CDC recommends that the individual “[s]tay home as much as possible” and consider getting tested for COVID-19. The CDC likewise updated its Travel: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers guidance, which now states that “[m]ost travelers can go back to work [after returning from international travel] but should take precautions” and that “[s]ome travelers may have higher risk of exposure and should stay home for 14 days.”
This updated guidance reflects an easing from the previous bright-line suggestion that individuals quarantine for 14 days following return from international travel. Similarly, the CDC does not recommend or require any blanket quarantine based on domestic travel, but rather the CDC recommends travelers consider staying home for 14 days after any travel involving higher risk activities, regardless of the destination. Employers may wish to reassess their travel-related policies in light of the revised guidance, including whether to require employees to remain home for 14 days upon return from business or personal travel. Another option is to allow travelers to return to work upon arrival unless they engaged in higher risk activities or had close contact with a known or presumed COVID-19 case during their travel. Regardless, employers may want to remember that any employee who is experiencing symptoms, including after returning from travel, should stay home and remain out of the workplace until the employee meets the CDC’s criteria to discontinue home isolation.