Recently, the CDC has reduced pandemic-related isolation restrictions for Americans infected with COVID: Previously, Americans were to quarantine for ten days, though under new CDC guidance, impacted individuals are now required to quarantine for only five days. This change in rules also applies to individuals who have been exposed to COVID.
According to the CDC, the guidance aligns with increased evidence that individuals affected by COVID tend to be the most infectious in the following period: a five-day window that spans two days prior to three days after symptoms develop.
In addition, the CDC was also motivated to change its guidance in light of rising COVID cases across the nation, which have been magnified by the rise of the omicron variant.
Preliminary research also reveals that the omicron variant appears to result in milder illnesses relative to previous iterations of the virus. Nonetheless, due to the massive number of individuals newly infected by COVID, hospitals, businesses, and airlines face significant challenges in terms of remaining open, per various experts.
Rochelle Walensky, who serves as the Director of the CDC, observed that the United States is likely to see an increase in omicron cases in the near future, though “not all of those cases are going to be severe.”
“In fact many are going to be asymptomatic,” Walensky continued in remarks to the Associated Press, adding that the agency “[wants] to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science.”
In the past week, the CDC has reduced onerous guidelines that previously required healthcare workers to stay away from work for a period of ten days following a positive test result. The revised recommendations call for a period of seven days instead, provided that they test negative for COVID and do not demonstrate any COVID-related symptoms. Moreover, the quarantine period could be reduced to only five days, or potentially even fewer, to address acute staffing shortages as needed.
Shortly after updating its guidance for healthcare workers, the CDC extended similarly loosened guidance to the general public, with even fewer restrictions than for medical personnel. While this guidance does not involve a direct mandate, it is a general recommendation for employers, as well as local and state government officials.
Other states may also seek to adjust their quarantine and isolation policies, which explains why the CDC is attempting to remain at the forefront of the shift in guidance. Walensky observes that “uniform CDC guidance” is likely “helpful,” especially in comparison to a hodgepodge collection of policies.
The recommendation for uniform guidance emerges as “more people are testing positive for the first time and looking for guidance,” as observed by Lindsay Wiley, a public health law expert from American University.
Rules for isolation pertain to individuals who have tested positive for COVID, and these rules remain the same for individuals who are boosted, fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, or unvaccinated. As the end of their five-day period of isolation, individuals must wear a mask for an additional five days, including around family members.
Rules for quarantine, on the other hand, pertain to individuals who have been in close contact with COVID without becoming infected themselves. Whereas fully vaccinated individuals were previously exempt from this quarantine measure, the CDC now only recommends that boosted individuals are exempt from this requirement.
These changes are not entirely without risk, as observed by Dr. Aaron Glatt, a doctor from New York, especially as some people may remain contagious after the five-day period has lapsed.
“If you decrease [isolation and quarantine] to five days, you’re still going to small but significant number of people who are contagious,” Glatt remarked ominously.