As a result of streamlined guidance issued recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal government is changing its COVID-19 safety protocols for federal employees and agencies.
“We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools—like vaccination, boosters, and treatments—to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19,” said Greta Massetti, PhD, the Branch Chief, Field Epidemiology and Prevention Branch at CDC. “We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation. This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives.”
According to the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, federal agencies should now pause requiring or requesting that current or potential federal employees provide their vaccination status.
In a revised series of frequently asked questions about complying with President Biden’s federal employee vaccine mandate, the Task Force states, “As soon as possible and no later than Monday, August 22, 2022, to be consistent with Task Force guidance, agencies should pause requiring or requesting employees and potential employees to provide information about their COVID-19 vaccination status regardless of COVID-19 Community Levels, where COVID-19 safety protocols do not vary based on vaccination status.”
A copy of the full question and its answer is included at the end of this article.
Ultimately what this means for federal employees is that COVID-19 workplace safety protocols will not vary based on vaccination status or otherwise depend on vaccination information in most federal workplaces.
Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols for Federal Agencies
Additionally, the Task Force has issued updates to federal agency workplace safety protocols. The revised guidelines are still based on COVID-19 community levels. Federal agencies are instructed to implement the new guidelines as soon as possible.
Not all of the safety protocols have changed. The table below from the updated Task Force guidance provides a detailed overview of the new federal employee COVID safety protocols and which ones have changed from previous guidance.
Overview of Federal COVID-19 Safety Protocols by COVID-19 Community Level
- See Frequently Asked Questions Related to Compliance with the Applicable Preliminary Nationwide Injunction on Implementation and Enforcement of the Vaccination Requirement Pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 14043 | Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, Updated August 17, 2022
- Agencies with employee COVID-19 vaccination requirements unrelated to EO 14043 and pursuant to other authorities can continue to require documentation of proof of vaccination from employees subject to those requirements, as can agencies with other setting-specific dependencies on collecting vaccination information from employees in those settings, in consultation with the Task Force, the agency’s General Counsel, and the agency’s Senior Agency Official for Privacy.
- See also: Updated Implementation Guidance on COVID-19 Community Levels | Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, Updated August 17, 2022 4 Agencies may need to require individuals to wear masks in certain Federal facilities or workplaces, or otherwise when Federal employees are on duty in certain settings, to be consistent with CDC guidance and other regulations.
- For the purposes of this guidance, high-risk settings include certain Federal facilities—or certain specific settings within Federal facilities— where (1) COVID-19 transmission risk is high, and (2) the population present onsite is at high risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 or there is limited access to healthcare.
Highlights From Revised COVID Safety Protocols
Key items from the new guidelines include:
- Federal employees will still have to wear masks in areas where the COVID-19 community level is considered high.
- By Monday, August 22, 2022 at the latest, federal agencies must stop implementing any COVID-19 serial screening testing programs and any point-in-time screening testing requirements that differentiate among individuals based on their COVID-19 vaccination status.
- As soon as possible and no later than Monday, August 22, 2022, agencies must no longer require that individuals who are not up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 do not enter Federal facilities or do not interact with members of the public in person as part of their official responsibilities for at least 5 full days.
- Federal agencies must instruct any individual with COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of his or her vaccination status or COVID-19 Community Levels, to not enter a Federal facility or interact with members of the public as part of official responsibilities, even if the individual does not know if he or she has been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
What Will Come of the Federal Employee Vaccine Mandate?
Despite the new CDC guidelines, the Biden administration appears to still be planning to pursue litigation in defense of the original federal employee vaccine mandate which was originally issued September 9, 2021. The litigation involves the case Feds for Medical Freedom v. Biden lawsuit.
According to Fox News, both the Justice Department and the White House declined to comment when asked if the new CDC guidance would affect its litigation in the case, nor did the administration respond when asked if there was a reason to continue pursuit of the federal employee vaccine mandate “now that there’s parity between vaccinated and unvaccinated people in the government’s guidelines.”
The next hearing in the case is currently scheduled for September 13, 2022.
The federal government said last December that 97.2% of federal employees were in compliance with the vaccine mandate.
Full Q&A from Safer Federal Workforce Task Force Updated FAQs on Enforcement of Federal Employee Vaccine Mandate
Q: Can agencies continue to require, request, and collect submission of vaccination information and documentation (including proof of primary series vaccination, additional doses, and booster shots) from employees and potential employees who have received an offer of employment, and maintain, review, and use that information and documentation?
A: As soon as possible and no later than Monday, August 22, 2022, to be consistent with Task Force guidance, agencies should pause requiring or requesting employees and potential employees to provide information about their COVID-19 vaccination status regardless of COVID-19 Community Levels, where COVID-19 safety protocols do not vary based on vaccination status.
Consistent with CDC guidance, for most Federal workplaces, COVID-19 workplace safety protocols will not vary based on vaccination status or otherwise depend on vaccination information. Where this is the case, agencies should no longer request or collect vaccination status information.
Agencies with employee COVID-19 vaccination requirements unrelated to E.O. 14043 and pursuant to other authorities can continue to require documentation of proof of vaccination from employees and potential employees subject to those requirements, as can agencies with other setting-specific dependencies on collecting vaccination information from employees in those settings. Agencies in these positions should consult with the Task Force, the agency’s General Counsel, and the agency’s Senior Agency Official for Privacy.
When agencies pause requiring, requesting, and collecting vaccination status information, such agencies must continue to preserve their vaccination information collection systems and the information collected to date from employees in accordance with National Archives and Records Administration records schedules; COVID-19 workplace safety may change in the future, or collection of this information from Federal employees may otherwise need to resume.