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White House Announces New Guidance For How Critical Employees Can Return To Work

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced new guidelines on Wednesday for critical infrastructure workers who may have been exposed to the coronavirus to return to work.
Alex Brandon
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced new guidelines on Wednesday for critical infrastructure workers who may have been exposed to the coronavirus to return to work.

The federal government has released new guidelines regarding when people in critical infrastructure roles can return to work after being exposed to a confirmed or suspected case of the coronavirus.

The guidance pertains to essential critical workers who have been exposed to COVID-19. For those individuals, the guidelines advise:

  • Take your temperature before work.
  • Wear a face mask at all times.
  • Practice social distancing in the workplace as work duties permit.
  • The guidelines advise individuals not to:

  • Stay at work if you become sick.
  • Share headsets or other items used near one's face.
  • Congregate in the break room, lunchroom, or other crowded places.
  • Employers are asked to:

  • Take the employee's temperature and assess their symptoms before the employee starts back at work.
  • If the employee becomes sick during the day, they should be sent home immediately.
  • Increase the air exchange in the building.
  • Increase the cleaning of commonly touched surfaces.
  • Test the use of face masks to ensure they don't interfere with workflow.
  • The new guidelines were announced at the White House on Wednesday. The guidelines are part of the government's effort to "reopen" the country, which has been brought to an economic halt as a result of the coronavirus and the extensive measures introduced to stem its spread. President Trump said Wednesday that he believes the country can reopen "soon" and he'll consult with health experts in determining exactly when.

    The CDC defines a potential exposure as "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 with an individual includes the period of time of 48 hours before the individual became symptomatic."

    The new guidance applies only to workers in critical infrastructure jobs. That category has been defined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (part of the Department of Homeland Security), but only as an advisory list, not a federal standard.

    By CISA's reckoning, the category includes certain workers in health care and public health, law enforcement and first responders, food and agriculture, energy, water and wastewater, transportation, public works, critical manufacturing, financial services, and communications, among other sectors.

    The new guidance does not pertain to those health care workers for which the CDC had already issued guidelines.

    The previously available guidance to businesses and employers in general is geared toward preventing workplace exposures to COVID-19 in non-health care settings. That guidance suggests that employers take steps including implementing flexible sick leave policies, preparing for a situation where a lot of employees can't work because of illness or caregiving, and establishing social distance policies.

    "What the CDC has done is that we've really looked at the essential workforce, and how to maintain that workforce, particularly at this time as we begin to get ready to reopen, and have confidence in bringing our workforces back to work," said the CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield.

    Redfield said the new guidelines are for workers in critical roles who "have been within 6 feet of a confirmed case or a suspected case," so that they can go back to work under certain circumstances.

    The goal of the guidelines, he said, is to "really begin to get these workers back into the critical workforce so that we won't have worker shortage in these critical industries."

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.