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New DOH Guidance Eliminates Furlough Exemptions for Exposed Staff

On Dec. 27th, the Department of Health (DOH) released new "return to work" guidance for all health care personnel (HCP) that expands work exclusion requirements for asymptomatic staff who have been exposed to COVID-19. The guidance eliminates exemptions from furlough for such individuals that were authorized in prior guidance based on staffing shortages. It also increases the duration of furloughs for staff in Enhanced Assisted Living Residences (EALRs) and Assisted Living Programs (ALPs).

The new guidance supersedes prior guidance governing work exclusion for exposed HCP and HCP returning from travel to non-contiguous states or other countries. It requires asymptomatic HCP who have been exposed to a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 to be excluded from work for 14 days if they work in nursing homes, EALRs, or ALPs and for 10 days in all other settings. The guidance allows exposed HCP to return to work after the required exclusion period without testing if they remain asymptomatic during the quarantine period and:

  • they continue daily symptom monitoring through Day 14;
  • they are counseled to continue strict adherence to all recommended non-pharmaceutical interventions, including hand hygiene and the use of appropriate face coverings;
  • they are advised that if any symptoms develop, they should immediately self-isolate and contact the local public health authority or their health care provider to report this change in clinical status and determine if they should seek testing.

Notably, this guidance does not apply to HCP who test positive for COVID-19 or exhibit symptoms. Prior work exclusion guidance for individuals with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test remains in effect.

Members should consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Interim U.S. Guidance for Risk Assessment and Work Restrictions for Healthcare Personnel with Potential Exposure to COVID-19 for information on evaluating exposures in health care settings. As a general matter, if HCP are properly wearing all recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) in a health care setting when in contact with someone who has COVID-19, there is no need to exclude the HCP from work. Nevertheless, providers should review the CDC's Interim Guidance for more detailed information regarding the evaluation of these potential exposures. In addition, members are reminded that staff should adhere to PPE requirements even when on break. For example, carpooling without wearing masks or sitting in a breakroom in close proximity and eating can create opportunities for exposure.

With rising community spread of COVID-19 and outbreaks in facilities, members will no doubt be concerned about the risk of staffing shortages as a result of these added furloughs. The DOH guidance refers providers experiencing staffing shortages to the Department’s Hospital Capacity Command Center (HCCC) at 1-917-909-2676. The HCCC is available 24 hours daily, 7 days a week.

While the new "return to work" guidance eliminates the staffing shortage exemption from furlough for exposed HCP and extends the furlough period for certain HCP, it was accompanied by another guidance document that reduced the quarantine period for asymptomatic, exposed individuals from 14 days to 10 days. It is important to note that although an exposed HCP may be removed from quarantine on Day 10, HCP who work in nursing homes, EALRs, or ALPs cannot return to work until Day 14.

LeadingAge NY has raised concerns with DOH and Governor's Office staff pertaining to the impact of this guidance on maintaining adequate staffing levels, particularly in light of serial testing of staff in adult care facilities (ACFs) and nursing homes and repeat positive results after recovery. We will update members to any new developments on this guidance or others.

Contact: Karen Lipson, klipson@leadingageny.org, 518-867-8838