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What to do if someone tests positive for COVID-19 at work

As workplaces strive to limit the economic impact of COVID-19, they must also consider their employees’ health and safety.

The following precautions remain essential:

  • Physical distancing, including:
    • Staying at home when sick.
    • Physically distancing from others, especially if unvaccinated.

The Health Department strongly recommends:

  • Mask wearing in higher-risk settings and while indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

The most effective and safe method to fight the pandemic is vaccination. Consider encouraging employees to sign up here for vaccination.

The guidance below is designed to help businesses and organizations understand what steps to take if someone at the workplace is sick or has tested positive for COVID-19. Additional guidance is available from the CDC.

Are employees required to wear masks?

Masks are strongly encouraged by the Health Department but are not required. However, you may choose to require masks in your establishment.

How can I keep my workplace safe?

  • Do not allow employees with symptoms to report to work in person.
  • Screen all employees for close contact to a confirmed case of COVID-19 daily, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Do not allow employees who are not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations and have had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 to report to work in person until their quarantine period is complete. They should quarantine for 5 full days. They can leave quarantine if they are asymptomatic and wear a mask around others including at work for an additional 5 days. They should seek testing on day 5.  (See below for testing information.)
  • Up to date employees who have not developed symptoms should get tested 5 days after exposure. They do not need to quarantine. They should wear a mask indoors in public for 10 days following exposure or until test result is negative. Note: Even while working in a vaccinated only establishment, they will need to wear a mask. (See below for information on positive test result.)
  • Perform surface cleaning and disinfection regularly with an EPA-approved product.
  • Encourage frequent hand washing.

What should an employee do if they are sick with COVID-like symptoms?

  • They should isolate immediately and get tested. See our map of testing sites. The Health Department is working with community organizations to run COVID-19 Resource Hubs and other distribution events that distribute at-home tests at no cost to individuals. Find a resource hub near you.
  • They should continue to stay home until test results are known. They should wear a well-fitted mask around others. Any employee with symptoms of COVID-like illness should not come to work.
  • If symptoms occur while at work, the employee should be isolated and then sent home immediately.
  • Anyone seriously ill should seek medical care immediately.
  • If the test result is negative, the employee may return to work after:
    • They don’t have a fever for at least 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medicines AND
    • Their symptoms are improving (some mild symptoms may linger).
  • COVID-19 shares many symptoms with other potentially contagious conditions. Even if the employee is not diagnosed with COVID-19, they should still follow your establishment’s normal illness policy.
  • If the test result is positive or if the employee chooses not to be tested or is unable to test, they may return to work after:
    • At least 5 days have passed since the symptoms started AND
    • At least 1 day fever free (off fever reducing medications like acetaminophen/Tylenol or ibuprofen) AND
    • Symptoms have improved.
  • The employee must wear a mask around others for 10 full days after symptoms began. (Day 0 is the first day symptoms developed. Day 1 is the first full day of symptoms.)
  • Employers must provide a place for these returning employees to eat lunch alone, so they are not removing their masks around others until their additional 5 days of strict masking has ended.

What do I do if a person tests positive for COVID-19 but has no symptoms?

  • The person who tested positive (regardless of symptoms) should isolate at home for 5 days from the date of the positive test. (Day 1 is the first full day after the test collection.)
  • The person can end isolation after 5 full days if they are fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and symptoms are improving.
  • The employee should wear a well-fitted mask for 10 full days after the date of their positive test any time around others in public.
  • The employee should also take these precautions:
    • Do not go to places where they are unable to wear a mask.
    • Avoid travel.
    • Avoid being around people who are at high risk.

What do I do if a person had an outside of work close contact with someone with COVID-19? The individual is not up to date with their COVID vaccinations.

Read the CDC’s latest guidance for staying up to date with your vaccinations.

  • If the individual is not up to date on COVID vaccines and had a close contact with a person outside of work, that individual must quarantine for 5 full days from their last contact with the person who tested positive. Even if they don’t develop symptoms, the employee should get tested at least 5 days after their last close contact with someone with COVID-19 when possible.
  • For help determining the duration of quarantine, see Calculating Isolation and Quarantine Period (PDF). Coworkers of a person who has been exposed do not need to quarantine unless they also have had exposure to the infected person.
  • Individuals who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines do not need to quarantine unless they develop symptoms.  They should get tested at least 5 days after exposure. (See below for more information on vaccinated individuals.)

If an employee is up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations, do they need to quarantine after having contact with someone with COVID-19?

  • Staff who are up to date with their COVID vaccinations or tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days do NOT need to quarantine when exposed to someone with coronavirus unless symptoms develop. They should wear a well-fitted mask around others for 10 full days after their last exposure to the individual with COVID.
    • Staff should continue to monitor themselves for symptoms after exposure and isolate if they develop symptoms.
  • The individual should get tested 5 days after their last exposure.
  • If the staff member becomes sick with COVID-19 or tests positive for COVID-19, they must adhere to guidelines for isolation.
  • Read CDC guidance for people who have been fully vaccinated.

How do I keep other employees and customers safe if someone at our workplace tests positive for COVID-19? Do we have to close?

  • All employees who are not up to date with their vaccines and were close contacts of the person with the positive COVID-19 test (the “case”) must quarantine – that is, stay at home, away from others, for 5 days. They must wear a well-fitting mask for an additional 5 days when around others. Persons are considered close contacts if they spent at least 15 minutes over 24 hours within 6 feet of the case during the time when the case may have been infectious. Persons are also considered close contacts if they had direct contact with the secretions of the case (for example, being coughed on) during the case’s infectious period.
  • Workers who are up to date with their vaccinations and close contacts should get tested 5 days after exposure and should monitor themselves for symptoms. They should wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days when they are around others.
  • Employers should determine if any employees or customers were close contacts of the case from 48 hours before until 5 days after the case first developed symptoms or tested positive. The employer must promptly notify the employee that they are a close contact of someone with COVID-19 without naming the person with COVID-19.
  • When considering who is a close contact. be sure to think about break and lunch time as well as carpools and other times when coworkers may be in close proximity but not at their desk.
  • The space where the positive person was working should be cleaned according to instructions below, but as long as there are employees available to work, a business does not need to close due to a positive case.
  • If there are more 5 or more cases in 14 days in the workplace, please call PDPH at (215) 685- 5488. We will help you walk through next steps.
  • Please do not require proof of COVID-19 testing either to qualify for sick leave or to return to work if it has been at least 10 days since the employees the last exposure.
  • Note that PDPH approval is not required for re-opening after closures for cleaning.

What should I do if my business is essential, employing critical infrastructure workers and we have a severe worker shortage?

In the event of severe worker shortages, the Health Department advises that unvaccinated critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to return to work immediately following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community. Workers who are up to date with their COVID vaccinations do not need to quarantine after an exposure. They should wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days after their exposure. They should monitor for symptoms for 10 days. If they develop symptoms, they should isolate and seek testing.

  • Pre-Screen: Employers should measure and record the employee’s temperature twice daily and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
    • Symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, fever, congestion/runny nose, shortness of breath, fatigue, chills, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, nausea/vomiting, new loss of taste or smell and diarrhea.
    • Any employee with symptoms of COVID-19 must go home and quarantine immediately.
  • Regular Monitoring: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor twice daily under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
  • Strict adherence to the worker protections listed above. These include frequent cleaning, provision and requirements for mask use (if applicable), physical separations, ensuring workers are distanced (6 feet, if possible), handwashing breaks, and limitations on occupancy.

Clean the workspace

  • Maintain pre-existing cleaning protocols established by the business.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch areas routinely in accordance with CDC guidelines in spaces that are accessible by customers, tenants, or other individuals.
  • Routine cleaning with soap and water will keep surfaces clean and decrease the risk of transmission.
  • Disinfect with a household disinfectant. This will further decrease the chance of virus remaining on the surface. Many disinfectants are approved for COVID-19.
  • Soft surfaces such as drapes or carpet should be cleaned regularly with appropriate cleaners such as soap and water.
    • Alternative forms of cleaning and disinfection such as sanitizing tunnels, ultrasonic waves and high intensity UV radiation should not be used. If it has been 7 days since the case was present, no additional cleaning is necessary.

  • Text COVIDPHL to 888-777 to receive updates to your phone.