Last updated December 15, 2020.
How is a critical infrastructure worker defined?
A critical infrastructure worker is someone whose in-person work is critical to maintain the essential critical operations of a critical community service.
There are many industries and services considered critical to a community, including health care, emergency services, first responders, information technology, communications, food and agriculture, utilities, and energy, among others.
While there are many critical community industries and services, not every employee in these industries would be classified as a critical infrastructure worker. An individual employee is considered a critical infrastructure worker when the roles and responsibilities of their in-person work: (1) are considered critical to maintain critical operations of a critical community service, (2) cannot be performed by another person, and (3) cannot be performed remotely.
Frequently asked questions
When anyone is exposed or has close contact to a person with COVID-19, they should quarantine after their last exposure, as they may become infected and may be contagious to others before symptoms develop or without showing any symptoms. Quarantine is necessary under these circumstances to break the chain of COVID-19 transmission.
However, some workers’ duties are so important in maintaining a critical community service, and the specific individual’s role is so technical or specialized, that the community may be seriously harmed if a specific exposed worker is placed under regular quarantine and not allowed to work in person. In these instances, the benefits of allowing such exposed critical infrastructure workers to work in-person under strict modified quarantine conditions may outweigh the increased risk of them potentially creating or worsening an outbreak. Such risks and benefits must be weighed carefully as regular quarantine is safer from an outbreak standpoint and should be the default option. It is the role of public health authorities to weigh the risks and benefits and make decisions regarding quarantine of exposed workers.
No. Essential workers or employees of essential businesses are those who are allowed to continue working under the most restrictive dial level. Under Level Purple, all individuals in a community follow stricter guidelines about allowed behaviors and interactions, such as working in-person, in an effort to slow community transmission.These guidelines apply even when a worker has not had a known close contact exposure to an infected individual. Essential workers are different from critical infrastructure workers as defined above.
Essential workers or employees of essential businesses should still undergo regular quarantine following an exposure or close contact to a person with COVID-19 as they have the potential to create or worsen an outbreak. Only those deemed to be critical infrastructure workers (as defined above) should be allowed to continue to work after being exposed under strict modified quarantine conditions.
No. Critical infrastructure workers who are exposed or have close contact to a person with COVID-19 may be allowed to report for in-person work under strict modified quarantine conditions. They should practice regular quarantine when off work as they are at higher risk for becoming infected with and transmitting the COVID-19 virus to others.
First, critical infrastructure workers and their managers should closely follow CDPHE workplace outbreak guidance in order to prevent workplace outbreaks and their spread in general.
Second, critical infrastructure workers who have had an exposure or close contact to a person with COVID-19 but remain asymptomatic and fever-free should also adhere to the following critical infrastructure worker practices prior to and during each work shift:
Pre-screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, symptom and temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
Regular monitoring: As long as the employee doesn’t have a fever or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
Wear a mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace. Employers can issue face masks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.
Physically distance: The employee should maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others and practice physical distancing as much as possible in the workplace.
Disinfect and clean work spaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, and shared electronic equipment routinely.
If the critical infrastructure worker becomes sick with fever and/or COVID-19 symptoms, they should be sent home immediately to isolate and be encouraged to get tested. Surfaces in their workspace should be cleaned and disinfected. Information on people who had close contact with the ill critical infrastructure worker during the time the worker had symptoms and two days prior to symptoms should be compiled. Those within 6 feet from the infected critical infrastructure worker for more than a total of 15 minutes would be considered exposed and would need to quarantine.
Additionally, exposed critical infrastructure workers who continue to work while asymptomatic under modified quarantine should be tested for COVID-19 at least five days after exposure (employers may consider more frequent testing in consultation with public health). If the exposed critical infrastructure worker tests positive for COVID-19, they should stop working in-person and should isolate immediately.
Finally, employers should ensure that workplace sick leave policies are consistent with state and local regulations when working with the employee to determine if the worker is able to continue working from home. Under the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (HFWA), employers must provide paid leave to an employee under certain conditions, including having COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis.
No. After the work shift, the critical infrastructure worker should follow regular quarantine procedures. They are not “exempted” or modified from regular quarantine outside of critical work because of their higher risk of becoming infected and potentially transmitting the COVID-19 virus to others.
No. An accurate comprehensive list would be impossible as each situation is specific and individual.
On one hand, there are clear examples of critical infrastructure workers such as wildfire firefighters, power plant engineers, 911 operators, police officers, etc., where the benefits of allowing them to continue to work in-person after exposure generally outweigh the risks of potentially creating or worsening an outbreak (though exact circumstances may vary). Still, depending on the local situation and the number of these individuals who have been exposed and would need to quarantine at any given time, it may be necessary for even critical infrastructure workers to undergo regular quarantine without modifications. In other words, having an occupation or job classification that clearly falls within “critical infrastructure” does not always mean the individual’s quarantine should be modified in order to work.
On the other hand, some other situations are not as clear-cut. In these situations, the employer should work with their local public health agency to determine what a reasonable determination would be, realizing allowing any exposed worker to work in person is risky. In general, the default option in these less clear-cut situations should be regular quarantine of exposed workers; a strong case should be made to decide otherwise. In other words, do the benefits of letting a particular exposed worker continue to work in person outweigh the risks of them potentially creating or worsening an outbreak?
The local public health agency can make the final determination if needed.
Three employees work at a local power plant, a critical service supporting community infrastructure. One of the employees tests positive, is immediately isolated at home, and upon contact tracing names two other employees as close contacts. Both close contacts are asymptomatic and should quarantine at home to prevent getting others sick.
However, one of the close contacts has a critical role in power generation that cannot be performed by another person and cannot be performed remotely. In collaboration with the local public health agency, the local power plant supervisor allows the one worker to continue working despite the higher risk of exposing others because of the individual’s critical operations role. The worker continues regular quarantine at home with the exception of modified quarantine at work. The power plant implements specific precautions including pre-screening and monitoring, physical distancing for work and breaks, mask-wearing, frequent handwashing, and increased cleaning and disinfection. Both the power plant and the exposed critical infrastructure worker understand that if any signs or symptoms develop, the worker will need to isolate immediately and be encouraged to get tested. Further contact tracing of employees will also be needed.
Yes. During an outbreak or periods of high transmission in the community, critical infrastructure industries/workplaces/businesses should try to reduce maximum in-person capacity as much as possible while attempting to maintain the most critical operations. While this may result in slower or altered workflow/production, if maximum in-person capacity is not reduced, there is a much higher risk of a worsening outbreak and potential need for closure. Please work with your local public health agencies to come up with creative ways of maintaining the most critical operations with a reduced in-person workforce.
Workers and employers should do everything possible to prevent workers from interacting with non-household members at close-range (within 6 feet) for more than 15 minutes total throughout a day. That way, they may not need to quarantine when someone is discovered to be infected with the COVID-19 virus.
In other words, physical distancing from non-household members, universal mask-wearing, and frequent handwashing should be strongly encouraged, whether at work or outside of work. Encouraging workers to maintain preventative practices outside of work as well can help keep your workforce healthy and help keep COVID-19 from entering your workplace. Find additional detailed COVID-19 workplace outbreak prevention guidance on CDPHE’s website.