Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New York eases quarantine rules for essential workers as omicron hits key industries

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul shortened the quarantine period for many essential workers even as infections have surged because of the omicron variant.
Mary Altaffer
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul shortened the quarantine period for many essential workers even as infections have surged because of the omicron variant.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul says most of the state's essential workers can return to work just five days after a positive coronavirus test if they're fully vaccinated and meet other safety standards.

Previously, workers were required to stay away from their jobs for at least 10 days.

Hochul said Friday the change in quarantine guidelines will make it easier to maintain "critical services that New Yorkers need, healthcare, transportation, grocery stores."

The policy shift will affect employees in a wide range of industries, from pharmacies and food processing plants to hospitals and taxi fleets.

The governor made the announcement as infections have surged nationwide because of the omicron variant.

In New York state, officials said the number of daily infections rose dramatically in recent days, up from roughly 22,000 on Tuesday to more than 44,000 on Thursday.

During a briefing Christmas Eve, Hochul also pointed to data suggesting the latest COVID strain may cause less severe infections.

"Positive cases don't mean you're too sick [to work] and require hospitalization," she said. "We want to make sure our critical workforce ... can get back."

In a statement, New York's acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said the impact of the winter omicron surge on the workforce "is already being felt."

"A reduction of isolation from 10 days to 5 days is sensible guidance and in alignment with the recent CDC guidance for health workers," Bassett said.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new national guidance allowing workers with COVID-19 to return to work after 7 days of quarantine, with a new negative test.

"[T]hat isolation time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages," the CDC said in a statement.

Officials in New York chose to cut the quarantine period even further — setting the state guideline at 5 days rather than 7. They also said workers returning to the job do not need to be retested.

Employees do, however, have to be fully vaccinated and wear a mask on the job site. They also have to be asymptomatic or "mildly symptomatic," with no fever for 72 hours.

During her briefing, Hochul said rising hospitalization rates are also putting additional strain on health care workers. She voiced sorrow for those who've lost loved ones to the pandemic during the holiday season.

"Our hearts go out to their family members just on the verge of this beautiful holiday," Hochul said. "To know there's going to be an empty seat at the table has to be incredibly painful."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.