Employees of retail giant Walmart will now get less than a week of paid leave under its revised COVID-19 policy.
Walmart’s old policy gave workers two weeks of paid leave, but the company recently revised its policy to conform to new shorter isolation and quarantine guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
New CDC guidelines, released in late December, reduce the isolation period from 10 days to 5 days for asymptomatic people who have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19. The CDC still recommends 10 days of isolation for symptomatic individuals who have tested positive for or have tested positive for COVID-19.
The above CDC guidelines apply to people who have not been vaccinated and who have not received a booster. The CDC suggested that people who have been vaccinated and received a booster do not need to be isolated after potential exposure.
A company spokesperson told Reuters that Walmart’s new policy reduces paid isolation leave time, but employees who are sick could potentially receive up to 26 weeks of additional COVID-related pay.
Walmart informed its US hourly employees and long-haul drivers about its new policy on Tuesday, Reuters reported. Walmart employs 1.6 million employees. As one of the largest US retailers, its revised policy could set a new standard for other large businesses looking to change their pandemic protocols.
The CDC shortened its suggested isolation period, just as the COVID-19 omicron version has led to a surge in new infections across the country. The new infections have resulted in significant labor shortages and increased demand for testing.
Although the CDC now recommends only five days of isolation, the agency also suggests that people wear face masks for at least 5 days after emerging from isolation.
Many immunologist and epidemiological experts have criticized the CDC’s abbreviated isolation guidelines, in particular its suggestion that people should leave isolation without first receiving a negative COVID-19 test.
Epidemiologist and immunologist Michael Mina tweeted: “CDC’s new guidance is reckless to leave positive isolation for 5 days without a positive test. Some ppl remain infectious for 3 days, some 12,” he wrote.
“I absolutely don’t want to sit next to someone who got into position 5 days ago and didn’t test Neg,” he went on. “The test nag is just smart enough to leave the isolation early.”
New confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US have reached an all-time high. On January 3, the US reported 1,018,935 new cases, the highest number of new cases in the country to date.
The previous high – before Omicron emerged – was 280,334 on January 3, 2021. However, the US broke that daily total on December 20, 2021, with 302,899 new cases being reported that day. Since then, the number of new cases has steadily increased.