US health officials on Monday reduced the length of time that Americans who contract the coronavirus must be isolated from 10 to five days, and they also reduced the length of time that close contacts must be quarantined.
It is the growing evidence that people who have the coronavirus are most infectious two days before and three days after symptoms develop, according to officials at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The decision was also influenced by a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, which was attributed to the omicron variant.
In preliminary research, it appears that the coronavirus omicron may cause milder illnesses than previous versions of the virus. However, experts warn that the sheer number of people who become infected — and who must be isolated or quarantined as a result — threatens to cripple the ability of hospitals, airlines, and other businesses to continue operations.
According to Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country is about to see a large number of omicron cases.
“Not every one of those cases is going to be life-threatening. As she explained to The Associated Press on Monday, “many people will be asymptomatic.” “We want to make certain that there is a mechanism in place that allows us to safely maintain society’s functioning while adhering to scientific principles.”
Last week, the agency relaxed rules that previously required health-care workers to miss a total of 10 days of work if they tested positive for a prohibited substance. Workers could return to work after seven days if their tests came back negative and they were not experiencing any symptoms, according to the new recommendations. In addition, the agency stated that if there are severe staffing shortages, isolation time could be reduced to five days or even less.
Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is changing the isolation and quarantine guidelines for the general public to be even less stringent.
It is intended for people who are not experiencing symptoms to make the change. People who experience symptoms during isolation, or who develop symptoms during quarantine, are advised to remain at their residence.
Public confusion over the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s isolation and quarantine recommendations has increased, and the new recommendations “come at a time when more people are testing positive for the first time and looking for guidance,” according to Lindsay Wiley, an American University public health law expert.
Despite this, the guidance continues to be difficult to understand.
The isolation rules apply only to those who have been infected. There is no difference in outcomes for people who are not vaccinated, who have only partial vaccinations, who have full vaccinations, and for those who have been boosted.
These are the words of those who claim to be experts in the field:
—The clock begins ticking the day after you test positive.
—Instead of the previously recommended ten days of isolation, an infected person should be placed in isolation for five days.
—If you have no symptoms at the end of five days, you can resume your normal activities. However, you must wear a mask everywhere you go, including at home where others are present, for at least another five days.
—If you are still experiencing symptoms after five days of isolation, stay at home until you feel better, and then begin your five-day period of wearing a mask at all times again.
They apply to people who have been in close contact with an infected person but have not become infected themselves, according to the quarantine rules.
When it comes to quarantine, the clock begins ticking on the day someone is informed that they may have been exposed to the virus.
Previously, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that people who were not fully vaccinated and who came into close contact with an infected person stay at home for at least 10 days.
Only people who received booster shots will be allowed to skip quarantine, according to the agency, if they wear masks in all settings for at least 10 days.
That represents a shift. Previously, people who were fully vaccinated — as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — were exempt from quarantine.
People who received their initial vaccinations but did not receive booster shots are now in the same situation as those who are only partially vaccinated or have not been vaccinated at all: they can be released from quarantine after five days if they wear masks in all settings for the next five days following their initial vaccination.
THERE ARE FIVE DAYS
Suspension of both isolation and quarantine after five days is not without its risks, however.
Many people get tested when they first notice symptoms, but many more Americans get tested for other reasons, such as to determine whether they will be able to visit family or go to work. According to experts, a positive test result may not reveal when a person was infected or provide a clear picture of when they are most contagious, even if the person tested positive.
Dr. Aaron Glatt, a New York physician and spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said that when people become infected, the risk of spreading decreases significantly after five days, but it does not disappear for everyone.
“Even if you shorten it to five days, you’ll still have a small but significant number of people who are contagious,” he explained.
According to Walensky, wearing a mask is an important part of the CDC’s recommended precautions.
The new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance is not a mandate; rather, it is a recommendation to employers, state and local officials. Last week, New York State announced that it would broaden the scope of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for health care workers to include employees who work in other critical jobs that are experiencing a severe staffing shortage.
Other states may seek to shorten their isolation and quarantine policies in the future, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is attempting to get ahead of the curve. “It would be beneficial to have uniform CDC guidance,” Walensky said, rather than a “mishmash of policies” from which others could draw inspiration from.
Because of the timing, which coincides with an increase in the number of reported cases, the update “will be perceived as being in response to pressure from business interests,” Wiley predicted. Some experts, however, have been calling for the change for months, claiming that shorter isolation and quarantine periods were sufficient to slow the spread of the virus, according to her.
The move by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention follows a decision made last week by officials in the United Kingdom to shorten the period of self-isolation for people who have been vaccinated but have tested positive for COVID-19.