On May 13, 2021, the CDC once again updated its guidance (here and here), significantly relaxing its standards for fully vaccinated individuals. “Fully vaccinated individuals” means that two weeks or more have passed since the person received either the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or one dose of a single-dose vaccine. Immunocompromised people, even if fully vaccinated, should consult their healthcare providers about the applicability of this new guidance.

The updated guidance provides that fully vaccinated individuals can:

  • Resume activities they engaged in prior to the pandemic without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
  • Refrain from testing following a known exposure unless they are residents or employees of a correctional or detention facility or a homeless shelter.

The CDC provided an updated infographic to help explain activities that unvaccinated and fully vaccinated people may engage in with corresponding risk levels.

Practical Guidance For Employers

It is unclear whether the CDC intended for its updated guidance to apply to employees in the workplace. It’s Guidance for Business and Employers Responding to COVID-19 webpage hasn’t been updated since March 8, 2021.

Additionally, in its latest non-mandatory guidance regarding the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, published on January 29, 2021, OSHA recommended that employers not distinguish between workers who are vaccinated and those who are not. Specifically, OSHA recommended that vaccinated workers should still follow protective measures because at the time (January 29, 2021) there was not enough evidence that COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus from person-to-person.  We expect OSHA to update this guidance in light of the new CDC guidance.

Furthermore, permitting a fully-vaccinated employees to be maskless in the workplace may have the unintended effect of “outing” those employees with disabilities or result in employees who have not been vaccinated due to disability or religious reasons feeling discriminated against or harassed.

Finally, and in accordance with the CDC’s May 13th guidance, prior to authorizing a mask-free workplace, employers should ensure that they comply with state and local laws and consult with experienced counsel.

New Recommendations Forthcoming

When Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, was asked at a White House news conference how the new guidance might apply to businesses and schools, she noted that the agency was working to issue new recommendations for specific settings (including summer camps and travel), which would be published soon.

Stay tuned!