Dear Clients and Friends,
Updated New Hampshire Universal Guidelines were released late Friday, November 13. The update includes one major change, one minor change, and one point of confusion that could be a significant change. As a reminder, the Universal Guidelines are the general guidelines regarding COVID-19 prevention published by the Governor’s Economic Re-opening Task Force pursuant to the Governor’s Safer at Home executive order. The Universal Guidelines apply to all New Hampshire businesses, organizations, and individual business operators. Some industries are also covered by industry-specific guidelines in addition to the Universal Guidelines. In many respects, the Universal Guidelines are more strict than federal guidance from the CDC. It is also important to note that compliance with the Universal Guidelines is mandatory.
The updated Universal Guidelines made the following changes from the October 6 version:
- Major change: Employees and volunteers traveling outside of New England on non-essential travel now have the option to shorten their 14-day post-travel quarantine by being tested for COVID-19 on day 7 of their quarantine with a PCR test or other molecular test. If the employee has a negative test result and no COVID-19 symptoms, the employee may end quarantine early.
- Minor change: A change was made to the definition of “essential travel” for clarification. It is important to have a clear understanding of the term because essential travel outside of New England does not require post-travel quarantine. As in the prior version, travel for food or beverage is considered essential travel. The updated Universal Guidelines clarify that in order for travel for food or beverage to be essential travel, it must be limited to “brief trips for take-out and groceries only.”
- Point of confusion/potential significant change: Previously, it was clear that employees who had close contact with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 had to quarantine. Now, the updated chart in the Universal Guidelines seems to indicate that only contact with actual cases, not suspected cases, requires quarantine. The updated chart refers to “contact with someone with COVID-19.” However, at least two other sections of the Guidelines still provide that employers and organizations must require those who report close contact with a person “known or suspected” to have COVID-19 to stay home, and the screening questions still include the question about “close contact with someone who is suspected or confirmed to have had COVID-19.” The NH DHHS updated Employer Travel, Screening, and Exclusion Guidance includes the re-worded screening question: “Have you had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the prior 14 days?” Given the conflicting information on this point and the extent of community transmission New Hampshire is experiencing now, employers may want to continue to quarantine those with close contact to suspected or confirmed cases, at least until further guidance is issued, although given the specificity of the NH DHHS Employer Travel, Screening, and Exclusion Guidance, it seems the likely intent of the Universal Guidelines was to no longer require quarantine following contact with a suspected case of COVID-19. If the requirement to quarantine following close contact with a suspected case of COVID-19 has been eliminated, employers will want to consider and address the gap of being in contact with someone who has been tested for COVID-19 and is awaiting results. Employers may also wish to keep an eye on the Business FAQs posted by the Economic Re-opening Task Force as its possible clarification on this point could be offered there.
The New Hampshire Department of Justice has established email and phone options for business owners and others to have concerns, questions, and complaints addressed: EO40issues@doj.nh.gov or 603-271-1225.
As always, we urge you to review the Universal Guidelines, which are available here. The Business FAQs mentioned above are available here: here. The updated NH DHHS Employer Travel, Screening, and Exclusion Guidance, which also addresses the exclusion from quarantine for certain essential employees, is available here. In addition, we encourage employers to keep in mind that the Universal Guidelines set the minimum standard – you are free to impose more strict requirements in your workplace if you wish to do so.
We hope this information is helpful as you continue to navigate the pandemic and the various legal requirements, and endeavor to keep your employees, customers, clients, and others safe as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday and associated travel.