Puerto Rico: new protocol for the management of COVID-19 cases in the workplace
The Department of Health of Puerto Rico issued a new protocol for managing COVID-19 cases in the workplace, including specific guidelines for certain industries. The protocol, issued on January 4, 2022, clarifies provisions of recent executive orders.
Below, we outline key details and considerations for employers.
Notification and self-quarantine measures after exposure
If an employee was exposed to COVID-19, the employer must immediately notify the Puerto Rico Department of Health so the Department can initiate a contact tracing procedure. Employers may notify the Department by filling out the provided form and sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further, the protocol requires employers to encourage their sick employees to:
- Stay at home
- Notify their supervisors if they have COVID-19 symptoms
- Not return to work until they have finished their quarantine
- Immediately isolate and return home if they have COVID-19 symptoms or were exposed to the virus during their shift and
- Isolate if they were exposed to a person who tested positive to COVID-19 even if they do not have symptoms.
The protocol clarifies that completely vaccinated employees shall be tested after the fifth day of exposure. Vaccinated employees can return to work on the eight day after exposure if they test negative for COVID-19 and do not show any symptoms. On the other hand, non-vaccinated employees who were exposed to COVID-19 must self-quarantine for 14 days after exposure.
Health professionals; employees of nursing facilities, such as elderly homes; employees of confinement facilities, child shelters and schools from kindergarten to 12th grade; first responders and security personnel; people associated with food distribution, banks, hospitality and manufacturing; travelers who are not residents of Puerto Rico; and people who have received their booster shot more than two weeks ago are exempt from self-quarantine.
Return to the workplace after testing positive
The protocol establishes the process that employers and employees must follow for an employee to return to the workplace after testing positive for COVID-19.
Symptomatic employees may end quarantine if:
- Ten days have passed since the symptoms appeared
- At least 24 hours have passed without experiencing a fever, when not using fever medication, and
- Other symptoms have improved.
- In severe cases in which the employee was hospitalized or has a compromised immune system, the quarantine may extend up to 20 days after the individual’s first COVID-19 symptoms or positive COVID-19 test.
In contrast, employees who tested positive for COVID-19 but do not show COVID-19 signs may end self-quarantine ten days after their first positive COVID-19 test result.
Employees are not required to show a negative COVID-19 test result to return to the workplace after having tested positive. The protocol acknowledges that employers are entitled to demand that their sick employees provide a medical certificate stating that the employee can return to work. However, the protocol cautions employers that healthcare providers may not be able to perform the test during an appropriate time frame due to the pandemic. The protocol highlights that many people with COVID-19 show minor symptoms and can return to work without medical attention.
All personnel of public safety agencies, the healthcare sector (including hospitals, laboratories, clinics, pharmacies, physicians’ offices, therapy and long-term care centers and blood banks), the education sector, and the food and beverage sector (including restaurants, fast-food establishments, food courts, cafeterias, bars, theaters, convention centers, supermarkets, mini markets, convenience stores at gas stations, and any other venue that serves food and/or drinks) must be fully vaccinated with a vaccine approved by the FDA and the corresponding booster shot or third dose.
Employees of other government agencies, municipalities, the hospitality sector (including hotel, motel and short-term rental employees), beauty and esthetic salons, spas, gyms, childcare centers, casinos and gas stations and employees of other private entities with 50 employees or more must be fully vaccinated, but the booster shot is not yet mandatory.
As per Executive Orders OE-2021-082 and OE-2021-087, the vaccination requirement applies to all employees as well as contractors, but not to suppliers. Employers are encouraged to grant vaccination leaves.
Any person who refuses to get vaccinated, due to a medical counterindication, a religious belief or any other reason, must furnish a negative result of a COVID-19 antigen or PCR test at least every seven days, or furnish a certification from a healthcare provider demonstrating that the individual recovered from COVID-19 within the last three months.
Employers in these industries may not allow people who do not meet these requirements to work in person. In such cases, employers are encouraged to allow persons to work remotely whenever possible or allow employees to use accrued leaves of absence or any applicable unpaid leave.
As per Executive Order OE-2021-085, at least until January 16, 2022, activities that promote the conglomeration of people and any establishments that serve food and/or drinks are subject to the following restrictions:
- Activities at in-door theaters, amphitheaters, stadiums, coliseums and convention centers shall operate at 50-percent capacity
- Activities at open-air theaters, amphitheaters, stadiums, coliseums and convention centers shall operate at 75-percent capacity
- Restaurants and establishments that serve food and drinks and which do not have an open-air area shall operate at 50-percent capacity and
- Restaurants and establishments that serve food and drinks and which have an open-air area shall operate at 75-percent capacity.
Use of face masks
The protocol emphasizes that, regardless of the vaccination status of any given person, the use of a face mask that covers the mouth, nose and chin shall be mandatory in all closed spaces. Likewise, the use of a face mask shall be mandatory in any open-air space where people cannot comply with the six-foot social distancing requirement.
Disinfection of the workplace
The protocol also provides guidelines for the disinfection of work areas and equipment such as tables, doorknobs, elevator buttons and desks. It specifically states that any surface that various persons frequently touch shall be cleaned and disinfected at least once a day or as often as necessary. Concerning the quality of the cleaning products used to disinfect the workplace, such products shall be those that are included in “List N” of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Cautionary measures against COVID-19
Regarding cautionary strategies for the mitigation of COVID-19 propagation in the workplace, the protocol recommends:
- Providing paid time off to allow employees to get the booster shot
- Instructing infected employees or employees that have had contact with an infected person not to visit the work premises
- Maintaining social distance
- Routinely disinfecting the workplace and
- Requiring the use of a facemask.
Requirements and protocols are constantly changing as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. We encourage employers to keep abreast of new developments and contact the firm if they have any questions.