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New return-to-work guidance emphasizes symptoms over testing

Health care professionals who test positive for the coronavirus are being advised they can return to work sooner.

The Oklahoma City County Health Department is recommending businesses follow updated Centers for Disease Control guidelines for a return to work strategy based on symptoms for the majority of COVID-19 cases.

“The research shows that people are no longer infectious after 10 days from symptom onset/positive test,” says Eddie Withers, epidemiologist with OCCHD.

Withers said that even those that are immunocompromised or those with a severe COVID response are infectious no more than 20 days, but he urged discretion for these situations.

“Regarding isolation, we are currently going with the symptom-based strategy,” Withers said. “It basically requires an isolation period of 10 days from symptom onset or date of a positive test result if symptoms were not present.”

Lynnda Parker, OCCHD’s clinical operations manager, said many businesses are still following a test-based strategy that requires two negatives tests before discontinuing isolation and returning to work.

“Unfortunately, many individuals are scheduling and testing multiple times before they get that negative response,” Parker said.

The latest CDC guidance does not recommend this continued test-based strategy in most cases.

“Accumulating evidence supports ending isolation and precautions for persons with COVID-19 using a symptom-based strategy,” the CDC explained in a decision memo. “This update incorporates recent evidence to inform the duration of isolation and precautions recommended to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to others, while limiting unnecessary prolonged isolation and unnecessary use of laboratory testing resources.”

Other specific recommendations included:

• For health care professionals who test positive for COVID-19 but never develop symptoms, isolation and other precautions can be discontinued 10 days after the test, according to the guidance update.

• Health care professionals with severe to critical COVID-19 illness or those who are severely immunocompromised are recommended to stay away from work and take other transmission-based precautions for at least 20 days.

• For asymptomatic severely immunocompromised health care professionals who tested positive, they should also stay away from work for 20 days following their initial positive COVID-19 test, according to the CDC.

Adam Kemp

Adam Kemp is a news and health reporter for The Oklahoman. He grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Read more ›