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CDC Shortens Self-Quarantine Time

photo of social distancing

This story was updated Dec. 2 with the CDC making the change official. 

November 25, 2020 -- The CDC has updated its recommendations for coronavirus self-quarantining to 7 to 10 days instead of 14 days.

The Wall Street Journal first reported last week that the change was likely. 

If individuals do not develop symptoms, they need only quarantine for 10 days; if they test negative, that period can be reduced to just 7 dayts.

The CDC hopes a shorter self-quarantine period would increase public compliance with COVID safety measures, said Henry Walke, MD, director of the Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

“Hopefully, people would be better able to adhere to quarantine if it was, for example, 7 to 10 days,” he said.

During a telephone briefing with reporters Wednesday, Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC's incident manager, said that people should still watch closely for symptoms — such as fever, a cough or a loss of taste or smell — for a full 14 days after exposure, NPR reported. 

The CDC would also urge people to take a test for COVID to make sure they’re not infected, Walke said. With a negative test result, “then their probability of going on and developing an infection after that is pretty low,” he said.

The type of test and length of self-quarantine haven’t been determined.

The 14-day self-quarantine period was chosen because that’s about the longest time it can take somebody to show symptoms once they’re infected with the virus.

Justin Lessler, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Wall Street Journal that about half of infected people show symptoms 5 to 10 days after exposure. A very small percentage show symptoms at 14 days, he said.

“If we could get people to quarantine -- and really quarantine, like you can’t go to the grocery store when you quarantine -- then I think there’s an argument for shorter times,” he said.

Health experts say the United States is moving into a dangerous period, with record numbers of people getting sick and pandemic fatigue gripping the country. On Tuesday, 169,190 new cases were recorded, the COVID Tracking Project reported. More than 12.4 million people have been infected since the pandemic began.

Currently, the CDC recommends that people should stay home for 14 days after their last “close contact” with a person who has COVID-19.

The agency defines close contact as being within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more, providing care for an infected person, having direct physical contact with an infected person, sharing eating or drinking utensils, or having an infected person cough or sneeze on you.

The CDC has moved away from a blanket 14-day self-quarantine period.

Last August, the CDC dropped a requirement that travelers self-quarantine for 14 days after returning from countries or areas with a high concentration of coronavirus cases.

France, Germany, and Belgium already have reduced their self-quarantine recommendations to gain more voluntary compliance from the public, despite rising numbers of cases in those countries, the newspaper reported.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

The Wall Street Journal: “CDC Finalizing Recommendation to Shorten Covid-19 Quarantines," "Countries Try Shorter Covid-19 Quarantines in Bid to Boost Compliance."

CDC: “When to Quarantine.”

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