It has been two and a half long years since we first heard about COVID-19. While the days of not knowing what end was up seem like a distant memory, the guidance and response from local, state, and federal agents continues to change. We have been receiving an uptick in questions about COVID lately, so we thought we’d share our answers to some frequently asked questions.
Q: Some well-known companies have publicly stated that they are no longer offering paid leave for COVID-19, does that mean I can stop too?
A: Not in New York State! NYS has a COVID-19 Sick Leave law that requires employers to pay employees for time missed because they are under a “mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19.”
Q: Can I accept an at home test result for purposes of paying COVID-19 Sick Leave?
A: You can accept an at home test. You can require a laboratory test. Whatever you decide your policy will be, it should be fair and consistent and communicated to employees in advance so they know what to expect.
Q: How many days of COVID-19 Sick Leave am I required to pay?
A: That depends on the number of employees you had as of January 1, 2020 and your 2019 net annual income. Collect those two pieces of information, and then visit the following website to find out your requirement: https://paidfamilyleave.ny.gov/COVID19.
Q: What’s the difference between quarantine and isolation?
A: Quarantine is for people who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19. Isolation is for people who have been infected (tested positive) with the virus.
Q: How do you quarantine?
A: Quarantine guidance has changed significantly! At the beginning of the pandemic, it was very similar to isolation guidance. At another point in time, Erie County and Niagara County had different quarantine guidance because it was based on factors like community spread. As time went on, quarantine guidance was loosened for those who were fully vaccinated. You can put all of that previous guidance in the past. As of September 14, 2022, New York State adopted the CDC’s quarantine guidance, which are now called precautionary measures. There is no longer an Affirmation of Quarantine to complete, and New York State Department of Health has replaced the “Quarantine Guidance” section of their website with a link to the CDC website: “What to Do If You Were Exposed to COVID-19”.
Q: So, if I don’t have to quarantine, what do I do if I am exposed to COVID-19?
A: The link above will give you additional context and has an isolation and exposure calculator that may help. In general, if you are notified that you were in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you should take the following precautions:
- Start wearing a mask as soon as you find out you were exposed. Day 0 is the day of your last exposure to the person with COVID-19. Day 1 is the first full day after your last exposure. Wear a high-quality mask any time you are around others inside your home or indoors in public. Do not go places where you are unable to wear a mask (for example in a swimming pool or eating at a restaurant).
- Watch for symptoms. If you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, isolate immediately, get tested, and stay home until you know the results.
- Continue these precautions for 10 full days. You can still develop COVID-19 up to 10 days after you were exposed. If you are counting on a calendar, remember day 0 is the last day you were exposed, and you should take the precautions for 10 full days (Day 1 through and including Day 10).
- Get tested on Day 6. The CDC recommends getting tested even if you don’t develop symptoms.
- If the result is negative, continue the precautions through the end of Day 10.
- If the result is positive, isolate immediately.
Q: How do I know if I was exposed to COVID-19?
A: When the pandemic began, local health departments employed contact tracers to reach out to all those who were exposed. As time went on, NYS Department of Health requested that people who tested positive contact those that they had been in close contact with themselves. While guidance still says you may be notified by a healthcare provider or public health authority, that does not seem to happen that often anymore. Today, you are most likely to hear directly from the person you were exposed to.
Q: How do you define exposure or close contact?
A: Again, this guidance has been subject to ongoing changes. Currently, the CDC states that an infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours (or 2 days) before their symptoms begin or for people that have no symptoms, 2 days before their positive test was collected. Close contact is less than 6 feet away from an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period in that window of time that the infected person can spread the virus. Please note that the 15 minutes is cumulative so it could be three separate 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes or fifteen 1-minute exposures, for example.
Q: What do I do if I live with someone or have to care for someone who has COVID-19?
A: If the person with COVID-19 cannot truly isolate (separate bedroom, separate bathroom, and not sharing personal household items), then you will have ongoing exposure until the infected person is no longer contagious. This means that the infected person’s Day 5 is your Day 0 – day of last exposure.
Q: What is Day 0?
A: Determining Day 0 is important in determining how long a person will need to isolate and/or take precautionary measures. If you experience symptoms and test positive for COVID-19, your Day 0 is the day your symptoms began. If you test positive for COVID-19 and do not have any symptoms, your Day 0 is the day your positive test was taken (not the day you received the results – the day the test sample was collected). If you were exposed to COVID-19, your Day 0 is the day of last close contact with the person who tested positive. The CDC provides a handy calculator to help you determine your personal timeline: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/isolation.html#when-to-isolate.
Q: What do I do if I test positive for COVID-19?
A: Regardless of vaccination status, you should isolate from others when you have COVID-19. Follow these instructions from the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/isolation.html#when-to-isolate):
- Stay home for at least 5 days and isolate from others in your home (including using a separate bathroom if possible).
- Wear a high-quality mask if you must be around others (at home and in public).
- Do not go places where you cannot wear a mask.
- Take steps to improve ventilation at home (open windows, change/upgrade filters in your HVAC system, use fans to improve air flow, turn your thermostat on – instead of AUTO – to ensure continuous airflow, use portable high-efficiency particulate air – HEPA – cleaners, etc).
- Do not share personal household items like cups, towels, and utensils.
Ending isolation is based on how serious your symptoms are. The CDC states that loss of taste and smell may persist for week or months after recovery and should not delay the end of isolation.
- If you had no symptoms, you can end isolation after Day 5 (meaning you can begin leaving your house on Day 6).
- If you had symptoms and they are improving, you can end isolation after Day 5 if you are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.
- If your symptoms are not improving, continue to isolate until you are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication AND your symptoms are improving.
- If you had symptoms and those symptoms rose to the level of moderate illness (you experienced shortness of breath or had difficulty breathing) you should continue isolation through the end of Day 10.
- If your symptoms rose to the level of severe illness (you were hospitalized) or you have a weakened immune system, you need to isolate through the end of Day 10 AND consult your doctor before ending isolation.
Regardless of when you end isolation, until at least Day 11, you should:
- Avoid being around people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.
- Remember to wear a high-quality mask when indoors around other at home or in public.
- Do not go places where you are unable to wear a mask until you are able to discontinue masking.
Q: Where do I go to find out more information?
A: New York State’s guidance can be found here: https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/isolation. Guidance from the CDC can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.
*Please note that this guidance was in effect in New York State at the date of publishing this blog. Guidance is subject to change so you should always monitor information from your local and state Department of Health. Please also note that this FAQ is based on New York State’s guidance. Different states may be subject to different guidelines.*