Guidance for managing veterinary employees with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 exposure or disease

Managing veterinary facility employees with exposure to confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19

Local and state health departments should be consulted whenever possible regarding how to manage veterinary facility employees who have been exposed to someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, and their guidance supersedes guidance from any other organization. If guidance from local and state health departments is not readily available, the following recommendations that come from the CDC Interim U.S. Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management of Healthcare Personnel with Potential Exposure in a Healthcare Setting to Patients with Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) can be used to develop initial plans for a veterinary facility.

Employees should be instructed to notify their manager if they:

  • Have been exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Have been within close proximity of someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Are experiencing symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, loss of taste or smell).

Information about the employee’s or family member’s medical conditions should be kept strictly confidential and separate from other personnel files. Other staff should be notified of a possible exposure or diagnosis, but the affected employee’s name should not be shared with other staff in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

There is no “one-size-fits-all” paradigm for dealing with a veterinary facility employee who has been exposed to a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19. Decisions on how to deal with exposures need to be risk-based and consider a number of factors, including but not limited to (in no particular order):

  • How critical the employee is for continued operations of the facility
  • The risk level of the employee with the exposure
  • The level of risk associated with the exposure to the confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19The risk level of other employees continuing to work at the facility
  • Precautionary procedures implemented at the facility

There is no one-size-fits-all paradigm.

If the determination is made to exclude an employee from work, the exclusion period should consist of a minimum of 14 days after the last known exposure. If the employee becomes symptomatic for COVID-19 anytime during the exclusion period, then consider the guidelines below for dealing with veterinary facility employees with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

If it is determined, after the risk-based assessment, to have the exposed employee continue working, it would be prudent to consider the following interventions:

  • Instruct the employee to stay home if there is any indication they don’t feel completely healthy (any level of headache, aches, or even slight temperature rise).
  • Actively monitor (someone besides exposed employee verifies) the temperature of the employee each day before being allowed into the facility.  Once the baseline temperature of the employee is known, a temperature increase of 1°F over baseline can be used to determine fitness for working.  Many references indicate that a temperature > 100.0° F can also be used.
  • Ensure the employee wears a surgical mask or N95 respirator at all times while in the workplace.
  • Ensure the employee maintains a minimum distance of 6 feet from other employees whenever possible.
  • Prevent direct interaction of the employee with the public.

Dealing with veterinary facility employees with confirmed or suspected COVID-19

Local and state health departments should be consulted whenever possible, and their guidance supersedes guidance from any other organization. 

Local and state health departments should be consulted whenever possible regarding how to deal with veterinary facility employees with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, and their guidance supersedes guidance from any other organization. If guidance from local and state health departments is not readily available, the following recommendations that come from the CDC Interim Guidance for Discontinuation of Isolation for Persons with COVID-19 Not in Healthcare Settings can be used to develop initial plans for veterinary facilities. The decision to discontinue isolation of a veterinary facility employee with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should be made in the context of local circumstances. Options now include both a time-since-illness-onset and time-since-recovery (non-test-based) strategy, and a test-based strategy.

Time-since-illness-onset and time-since-recovery (non-test-based) strategy

Veterinary facility employees with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and who were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue isolation under the following conditions:

  • At least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery, which is defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and
  • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

Note: This recommendation will prevent most but may not prevent all instances of secondary spread. The risk of transmission after recovery is likely substantially less than that during illness.

Test-based strategy

A test-based strategy is contingent on the availability of ample testing supplies and laboratory capacity as well as convenient access to testing.

Veterinary facility employees with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and who were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue isolation under the following conditions:

  • Resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and 
  • Negative results of an FDA Emergency Use Authorized molecular assay for COVID-19 from at least two consecutive nasopharyngeal swab specimens collected 24 hours apart (total of two negative specimens)

Note: All test results should be final before isolation is ended. Testing guidance is based upon limited information and is subject to change as more information becomes available.

Asymptomatic veterinary facility employees with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19

Veterinary facility employees with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 who have not had any symptoms may discontinue isolation when at least 10 days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test, provided they remain asymptomatic and no subsequent illness develops. For three days following discontinuation of isolation, these employees should continue to limit contact (stay 6 feet away from others) and limit potential for dispersal of respiratory secretions by wearing a covering over their nose and mouth whenever they are in settings where other people are present.

Legal considerations

It’s important to know that the under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers have a general duty to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause serious physical harm or death. Veterinary facilities can help ensure they meet their obligations regarding COVID-19 by closely monitoring recommendations from the CDC and state/local public health authorities and communicating those recommendations to staff. Training staff regarding specific safety concerns and measures related to COVID-19 is also recommended. All employment decisions should appropriately balance public safety, the health and safety of the workforce, and the continued delivery of essential services and functions.

When considering how to deal with employees who have been exposed to confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, or who are themselves showing symptoms, employers must always be vigilant to comply with laws protecting employees from discrimination. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act rules should not interfere with or prevent employers from following the guidelines and suggestions made by the CDC or state/local public health authorities about steps employers should take regarding COVID-19. Employers should remember that guidance from public health authorities is likely to change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Therefore, employers should continue to follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety.

Specifically, employers may take an employee’s temperature if that employee has contact with others and would put them at risk if he or she has COVID-19 and the employer is taking the temperature of all similarly situated employees. Employers may also ask employees who report feeling ill at work, or who call in sick, questions about their symptoms to determine if they have or may have COVID-19. Known symptoms currently include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. As with all medical information, the fact that an employee had a fever or other symptoms would be subject to ADA confidentiality requirements. Similarly, with respect to the current COVID-19 pandemic, employers may ask if employees have had contact with “anyone” with COVID-19 or showing signs of the virus, being careful to avoid asking specifically about family members. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits questions about family member medical history.

Employers must also be mindful to avoid retaliating against an employee who “blows the whistle” about unsafe working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is encouraging workers to submit whistleblower complaints to the agency if they encounter any misconduct. For example, an employee may file a complaint if they are not allowed to wear a face mask or if they refuse to work closely with others who do not use face masks.

Disclaimer: This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended or offered, nor should it be taken, as legal or other professional advice. The content on this webpage is subject to frequent updates and revisions. Please make sure you check back regularly and confirm all information with the relevant jurisdiction. This material is not a substitute for appropriate professional advice based on specific circumstances. You should always consult with your own professional advisors (e.g. attorney, accountant, insurance carrier). The AVMA provides the content on this webpage “as is” with no representations or warranties. Any links to third-party websites or content implies no endorsement or affiliation.