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Important Information About Quarantine and Isolation
Dear Division Heads, Deans and Directors:
We approach the start of the spring semester facing a new and different challenge related to operating the University during the COVID-19 pandemic—the highly infectious omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 illness.
Fortunately, there is strong evidence that those fully vaccinated (including a booster) have a lesser risk to individual health. At the same time, the omicron variant is significantly more infectious, which is the reason a record number of individuals in our community and across the U.S. are testing positive for COVID-19 illness.
One consequence of this sharp increase in transmission is that it overwhelms contact tracing efforts. It is for this reason that last week the Onondaga County Health Department (OCHD) announced that it is discontinuing its contact tracing program. Instead, OCHD is asking individuals who test positive for COVID-19 to be responsible for notifying close contacts of potential exposure themselves. Although OCHD is discontinuing its contact tracing, its website still encourages individuals to report their positive COVID status. The University will continue to contact trace transmission that occurs with students and classroom operations.
OCHD’s decision to discontinue local contact tracing has the effect of shifting the public health decision-making process associated with addressing workplace exposures to individual employers. What this means for Syracuse University—given what we anticipate being a surge in new COVID cases over the next few weeks—is that we must provide unit heads and supervisors the support they need to make real-time decisions to mitigate exposure and transmission and safeguard the operational continuity of their units. Accordingly, in what follows you will find:
- Checklist of Omicron Mitigation Best Practices and Strategies
- Recommended Supervisor Responses to Employee Infections
Omicron Mitigation Best Practices and Strategies
Given the highly infectious nature of the omicron variant, supervisors should consider the following recommendations and practices to best mitigate the opportunity for workplace exposure and transmission:
- Strongly communicate and reinforce the policy that any individual experiencing symptoms characteristic of COVID-19 (i.e., congestion, cough, fever, etc.) should not come to work until those symptoms resolve.
- Encourage remote work for those employees who can perform their duties remotely, over the next two weeks.
- Strictly enforce the University’s masking policy: 100% indoor masking and masking outdoors when in the presence of others.
- To the extent practical, avoid sharing a vehicle with another employee during the workday. In instances where this is not possible, ensure all vehicle occupants are masked.
- To the extent practical, minimize large group meetings. If group meetings are necessary, choose a meeting space where distancing is possible.
- Discuss with your teams the importance of communicating honestly about exposures, while also acknowledging the privacy rights of employees who have tested positive for COVID-19. Encourage employees to notify their supervisor immediately if they test positive so the supervisor can assist with notifying coworkers as appropriate.
- Encourage employees to be tested frequently, at least once per week for the time being.
Recommended Supervisor Responses to Employee Infections
While it is impossible to provide guidance appropriate to each individual situation, the following information is provided to inform your unit-level decision-making process:
- Definition of a close contact: A close contact is defined as someone who has been near a person with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes when health and safety measures were not in place or were insufficient. Please note, an individual is not necessarily considered a close contact if, during the contact period, both individuals were appropriately masked and/or physically distanced.
- Those identified as a close contact, but who are fully vaccinated and boosted, do not need to quarantine. They should, however, be directed to wear a well-fitting mask around others for a period of 10 days and seek testing five days following exposure at the University’s Testing Center, pursuant to OCHD guidelines.
- Any individual not fully vaccinated and boosted who is exposed to a COVID-positive individual is required to quarantine for five days. A person who is considered to be not fully vaccinated and boosted is someone who meets any of the following conditions:
- Not vaccinated whatsoever
- Not fully vaccinated (in the process of being vaccinated, but has not received final vaccine dose)
- Vaccinated and eligible for a booster, but has not yet received a booster dose
- Vaccinated and boosted, but received the booster dose within 14 days of being exposed to a COVID-positive individual
- The timeframe of quarantine should be calculated where Day 0 is the last day of exposure to a COVID-positive individual, and Day 1 of quarantine is the first day post-exposure. For example, if your last exposure to a COVID-positive individual is a Monday (Day 0), the first day of the five-day quarantine period will begin on Tuesday (Day 1) and extend through Saturday (Day 5). The individual may exit quarantine on Sunday, assuming no COVID-like symptoms have developed during the quarantine period.
- Those asymptomatic can return to work upon exiting quarantine but should continue to wear a well-fitting mask around others for an additional five days.
- Any individual who develops COVID-like symptoms during the quarantine period should seek testing and is prohibited from returning to work, until COVID-like symptoms begin to resolve.
- Supervisors should endeavor to make others in the workplace aware of any potential exposure but ensure they do so in a way that safeguards the privacy rights of employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 (e.g., you can advise that they have had a close contact with someone who has tested positive on a certain date but not reveal the name).
It’s clear that the current surge of COVID cases is already putting a strain on some units, and we anticipate the workplace challenges associated with omicron will persist at least through the month of January. To that end, it is imperative that supervisors and unit heads take appropriate action—as possible and practical—to mitigate exposure, transmission and ultimately safeguard the operational continuity of their units. Your partnership and support in this effort is critical and very much appreciated.
For those who may have specific questions about how best to address a COVID-related workplace situation, please feel free to contact HR Shared Services (315.443.4042) or the COVID Project Management Office (315.443.6180).
J. Michael Haynie
Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation
Andrew R. Gordon
Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer