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To Open or Not to Open? The CDC Issues Long-Awaited Reopening Recommendations

Coronavirus Labor & Employment

On May 14, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued general guidance for workplaces, schools, youth programs and camps, childcare centers, mass transit systems, and restaurants and bars looking to reopen during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The guidance is in the form of six one-page “decision trees” with flow charts indicating what steps facilities are recommended to have in place before reopening.

Importantly, the decision trees indicate that establishments should ensure that any reopening plans comport with applicable state or local stay-at-home orders and do not set a timeline for reopening for any entity. The decision trees indicate that all establishments should be prepared to protect employees at a high risk for exposure, including those over the age of 65 and with underlying medical conditions, before reopening, without providing direction as to what that protection would entail. We note that the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 suggests that vulnerable employees should be allowed to continue to telework if at all possible. The decision trees also generally recommend steps such as intensified health and safety actions, including increased hygiene and cleaning practices and encouragement of social distancing, although in many cases only “as” or “if feasible.” That limitation suggests that the CDC foresees instances in which establishments will nonetheless open without such safeguards in place if they are not “feasible,” although the CDC does not define or provide direction as to when a safeguard is “feasible.”

Each individual decision tree also contains unique recommendations based on the specific type of establishment at issue. Although the new CDC decision trees are significant, a number of important questions remain unanswered. We are working with many clients to address reopening plans that fill in the blanks left by the CDC’s decision trees and address local and state guidelines. For more information or for assistance with your reopening plans, contact any Franczek attorney.

General Guidance

All of the decision trees begin with the directive that establishments should not even consider reopening if doing so would be inconsistent with applicable state and local orders or the establishment would not be able to protect workers and children who are at high risk. If those two elements are met, the decision trees recommend a number of additional safeguards that should be met.

With respect to health and safety actions, for all establishments, the decision trees recommend:

  • Promotion of healthy hygiene practices, such as hand washing and employees (not children) wearing a cloth face covering, as feasible
  • Intensified cleaning, disinfection, ventilation and, for childcare providers, restaurants, and bars, sanitization
  • Encouraging social distancing, with specific examples provided for each type of establishments, and
  • Training of employees on health and safety protocols.

With respect to health monitoring, the decision trees specifically encourage all establishments to:

  • develop and implement procedures to check for signs and symptoms among constituents, “daily upon arrival, as feasible”
  • encourage anyone who is sick to stay home
  • plan for if employees and children get sick
  • regularly communicate and monitor developments with local authorities and employees
  • monitor employee absences and have flexible leave policies and practices, and
  • be prepared to consult with local health authorities if there are cases in the facility or increased cases in the local area.

Specific Guidance for All Workplaces

In addition to the general guidance common to all establishments, the decision trees provide some examples of the type of social distancing measures that workplaces might put in place upon reopening to enhance spacing between employees, including:

  • physical barriers
  • changing layouts of workspaces
  • encouraging telework
  • closing or limiting access to communal spaces
  • staggering shifts and breaks, and
  • limiting large events.

As noted previously, these social distancing recommendations are only “as feasible”, and the workplace decision tree appears to envision situations in which a workplace might open even if no social distancing steps can be taken. The workplace decision tree does not provide any further insight on what those situations might entail.

Note that each of the specific types of establishments for which there are separate decision trees are also workplaces and so, presumably, would be expected to apply with the decision tree for all workplaces in addition to the decision tree specific to their establishments.

Specific Guidance for Schools, Childcare Centers, and Camps

For schools, childcare centers, and youth programs and camps, the initial step of the decision tree includes, in addition to questions about compliance with state and local laws and protection for at risk employees and children, a question about whether the facility can screen all children and employees upon arrival for symptoms of history of exposure. Notably, this recommendation does not contain the “as feasible” limitation found with many others in the decision tree. That and other indications in the decision tree (the use of a red stop sign indicating “do not open” if this safeguard cannot be met, as compared to a yellow stop sign when other recommendation are not met) suggest that the CDC’s position is that schools, childcare centers, and camps should not open unless such screening is in place. The decision tree offers no additional information on what appropriate screening might look like or what “symptoms and history of exposure would entail.” We recommend you look to local health departments for additional guidance on this issue in preparing your plans to reopen.

The guidelines do not include recommendations that summer camps only open if they are able to limit attendance to local residents, which reportedly was in an earlier draft of CDC guidance. In recognition that students may move around more in the summer, however, the decision tree for youth programs and camps also recommends, if feasible, implement “enhanced screening for children and employees who have recently been present in areas of high transmission, including temperature checks and symptom monitoring.” No direction is provided as to how to identify students, what areas are of concern, and what symptoms should be monitored. Again, local health agencies may be helpful in answering such questions.

The decision tree for schools, childcare centers, and camps also includes examples of types of social distancing and other measures that might be used in such facilities, “if feasible.” These include:

  • For schools: use of increased spacing, small groups and limited mixing between groups, if feasible
  • For childcare centers: use of increased spacing small groups, and limited mixing between groups, if feasible; for family child care, monitoring distance between children not playing together and maintaining distance between children during nap time; and adjusting activities to limit sharing of items such as toys, belongings, supplies, and equipment, and
  • For youth programs and camps: use of increased spacing, small groups, and limited mixing between groups; staggered schedules, including arrivals and drop offs; and adjusting activities to limit sharing of items such as toys, belongings, supplies, and equipment.

Schools, childcare centers, and camps are also recommended to communicate with families regarding cases, exposures, and updates to policies and procedures, in addition to general recommendations for communication with employees.

Specific Guidance for Restaurants and Bars

The decision tree for restaurant and bars recommends that establishments encourage social distancing and enhance spacing using the following measures, “if feasible”:

  • Encouraging drive-through, delivery, and curb-side pickup
  • Spacing tables/stools
  • Limiting party sizes and occupancy
  • Avoiding self-serve stations
  • Restricting employee shared spaces
  • Rotating or staggering shifts