New York State Department of Health Announces New Return-to-work Guidance for Fully Vaccinated Critical Workforce, Including Healthcare Workers, In Face of Covid-19 Winter Surge

Guidance Allows Fully Vaccinated Asymptomatic Members of the Critical Workforce to Return to Work After Five Days if Meet Certain Criteria

Workers Must Wear Masks and Follow Other Precautions

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 24, 2021) - The New York State Department of Health today announced new guidance allowing healthcare workers and other members of the critical workforce who test positive for COVID-19 and are fully vaccinated to return to work sooner than previously allowed in order to provide healthcare and other essential services to New Yorkers. This comes following updated guidance from the CDC in the face of increasing COVID-19 cases and the highly contagious Omicron variant.

"The rapid rise in infections means the impact of the winter/Omicron surge on the workforce is already being felt," said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. "A reduction of isolation from 10 days to 5 days is sensible guidance and in alignment with the recent CDC guidance for health workers. We are not advising people who are sick to return to work. This guidance allows vaccinated people in the critical workforce who test positive and have no symptoms or are mildly symptomatic to return to work."

The Department of Health's new guidance allows fully vaccinated healthcare workers and other fully vaccinated members of the critical workforce who test positive for COVID-19 to return to work after five days if they meet certain criteria and if there is a critical staffing shortage. They must be asymptomatic or, if they had mild symptoms, they must:

  • Not have a fever for at least 72 hours without fever-reducing medication
  • Have resolution of symptoms or, if still with residual symptoms, then all are improving
  • Not have rhinorrhea (runny nose)
  • Have no more than minimal, non-productive cough (i.e., not disruptive to work and does not stop the person from wearing their mask continuously, not coughing up phlegm)

Testing is not required.

Workers must consistently and correctly wear a well-fitting non-woven face mask. In health care settings these include a higher-level mask such as a KN95, a fit-tested N95 respirator while at work. Individuals who are moderately to severely immunocompromised are not eligible to return to work under this guidance.

Workers participating in this program should be instructed to practice social distancing from coworkers whenever possible, separate themselves from others when removing their mask to eat or drink and self-monitor for symptoms and seek re-evaluation if symptoms recur or get worse.

NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said: "As we battle this Omicron wave, we must do all we can to ensure our hospitals are able to meet the moment. I support the revised guidance on isolation for critical workers who are fully vaccinated. I want to thank our health care and other critical workers for stepping up yet again to keep us safe and healthy."

For more details on the new guidance, see here.