Employees of retail giant Walmart will now receive one less week of paid leave under its revised COVID-19 policy.
Walmart’s old policy had given workers two weeks of paid leave, but the company recently revised its policy to be in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) newly shortened isolation and quarantine guidelines.
The CDC’s new guidelines, released in late December, shorten 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 been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19.
The CDC’s guidelines above apply to vaccinated and unvaccinated people who have not received a booster. People who have been vaccinated and gotten a booster aren’t required to isolate after potential exposure, the CDC suggested.
While Walmart’s new policy shortens the time for paid isolation leave, workers who are sick can potentially receive up to 26 weeks of additional COVID-related pay, a company spokesperson told Reuters.
Walmart notified its U.S. hourly employees and long-haul drivers of its new policy on Tuesday, Reuters reported. Walmart employs 1.6 million workers. As one of the largest U.S. 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 variant has caused a spike in new infections across the nation. The new infections have resulted in significant labor shortages and an increased demand for testing.
Although the CDC now suggests only five days’ isolation, the agency also suggests that people wear a face mask for at least 5 days after emerging from isolation.
Several immunological and epidemiological experts have criticized the CDC’s shortened isolation guidelines, specifically its suggestion that people should leave isolation without first getting a negative COVID-19 test.
Epidemiologist and immunologist Michael Mina tweeted: “CDC’s new guidance to drop isolation of positives to 5 days without a negative test is reckless. Some ppl stay infectious 3 days, Some 12,” he wrote.
“I absolutely don’t want to sit next to someone who turned Pos 5 days ago and hasnt tested Neg,” he went on. “Test Neg to leave isolation early is just smart.”
Newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have spiked to an all-time high. On Jan. 3, the U.S. reported 1,018,935 new cases, the country’s highest-ever daily toll of new cases.
The previous high—before Omicron emerged—was 280,334, on Jan. 3, 2021. However, the U.S. broke that daily total on Dec. 20, 2021, with 302,899 new cases reported that day. The number of new cases has steadily risen since.