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New Jersey Employers should continue adherence to safety protocols despite the existence of fully vaccinated employees

By: Cristina N. Hyde, JD

As we celebrate the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine, to say that people are eager to resume “normal life” would be an understatement.  Yet, employers should not hastily cast away workplace restrictions despite an increasing population of fully vaccinated employees.  Instead,  according to the newest guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), business owners and healthcare practitioners would be wise to take a measured and mindful path toward the return to pre-COVID workplace routines.

Earlier this month, the CDC issued recommendations relating to fully vaccinated individuals; indicating they “can start to do some things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”  The complete text of the guidance, which was just recently updated on March 23, 2021, can be found here.  On March 24, 2021, the NJDOH also issued guidance for fully vaccinated persons in non-healthcare settings.  The full text of that guidance can be found here and was specifically drafted to clarify the guidance presented by the CDC.

An individual is fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the final dose a COVID-19 vaccine.  Thereafter, according to both the CDC and the NJDOH, they can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.  They are also not required to quarantine after a known exposure to COVID-19 unless symptoms are apparent.  The CDC guidance also relieves fully vaccinated individuals from being tested following an exposure.  However, the NJDOH guidance does not and states “testing following an exposure and through routine workplace screening programs (if present) is still recommended.  Explaining that knowledge remains limited on COVID-19 variants and the breadth and duration of protection offered by the currently available vaccines, the NJDOH opined that the state is “not in a position at this time to broadly exempt fully vaccinated individuals from existing COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including requirements for indoor and outdoor gatherings outlined in current Executive Orders.”

In addition, both entities advise that even fully vaccinated individuals should continue taking precautions such as wearing a mask and social distancing when in public, and when gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one household.  The CDC and NJDOH continue to recommend the avoidance of medium-to-large sized gatherings and the NJDOH clarified that all individuals regardless of vaccination status must continue to adhere to state guidance restricting the size of gatherings.

Therefore, when considering whether to ease workplace restrictions other than quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated employees, an argument can be made that the continued admonitions related to medium-to-large sized gatherings and gathering with unvaccinated individuals, clearly implicate most office environments and present challenges; becoming especially tricky related to exempted unvaccinated employees.

In light of the above, it is our hope that we will see updated guidance from the CDC and NJDOH  as the percentage of vaccinated individuals increases and we learn more about the vaccines’ efficacy. Meanwhile, if you have any questions regarding CDC’s or NJDOH’s new guidance please Contact Us.

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