Dec. 28, 2021 -- The CDC recommended shorter COVID-19 isolation and quarantine periods on Monday, cutting the time for people without symptoms and close contacts from 10 days to 5 days.

CDC officials said the new guidance follows recent data that shows people infected with the coronavirus are most contagious in the 2 days before and 3 days after symptoms develop.

“Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others,” the CDC wrote in a statement.

The CDC also updated the guidance for people who are exposed to COVID-19. For those who are unvaccinated or are more than 6 months out from their second Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or more than 2 months out from their Johnson & Johnson vaccine and not boosted, the CDC recommends a 5-day quarantine and “strict mask use” for 5 more days. If the 5-day quarantine period is “not feasible,” the CDC wrote, exposed people should wear a well-fitting mask “at all times” when around others for 10 days after exposure.

Those who have received a booster shot don’t need to quarantine after an exposure, the CDC said, but they should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure. For all people who are exposed, the best practice is to get tested on the fifth day after exposure. If symptoms occur, people should quarantine until a negative test confirms that symptoms aren’t due to COVID-19.

The news comes after the agency last week loosened the rules for health care workers, reducing the isolation time from 10 days to 7 days. If there are severe staffing shortages, the CDC said, the isolation time could be cut to 5 days.

The decision was driven by a recent surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, the CDC said. Early research suggests that the variant may cause less severe illness than earlier versions of the coronavirus, yet the sheer number of people becoming infected and isolating could prevent businesses from staying open, according to The Associated Press.

“Not all of those cases are going to be severe. In fact, many are going to be asymptomatic,” Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the CDC, told the AP on Monday.

“We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science,” she said.

The CDC encouraged people to get vaccinated and get a booster shot, citing data from South Africa and the U.K. that show vaccine effectiveness for two doses is about 35% and a booster shot restores protection to 75%. The CDC recommended COVID-19 vaccination for ages 5 and older and booster shots for ages 16 and older.

“The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society,” Walensky said in the CDC statement. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”

The CDC’s isolation and quarantine rules have confused people, the AP reported, and the new guidance is meant to help at a time when more people are testing positive. Overall, the latest change is aimed at people who don’t have symptoms. Those who test positive and have symptoms should stay at home.

Isolation

The isolation rules apply to those who test positive for COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status. They say:

  • The clock starts on the day you test positive.
  • You should go into isolation for 5 days instead of the previously recommended 10 days.
  • At the end of 5 days, if you have no symptoms, you can return to normal activities but should wear a mask everywhere for at least 5 more days, including at home around others.
  • If you have a fever, continue to stay home until you no longer have one.

Quarantine

The quarantine rules apply to those who are exposed to COVID-19 and are close contacts of someone who tested positive. They say:

  • The clock starts on the day you’re alerted that you may have been exposed to the virus.
  • If you have received a booster shot or completed the first vaccine series recently (within 6 months for Pfizer and Moderna and within 2 months for Johnson & Johnson), you should wear a mask around others for 10 days and get tested on the fifth day, if possible. If you have symptoms, get tested and stay home.
  • If you are unvaccinated or completed the first vaccine series but haven’t been boosted in the recommended time frame for your vaccine, you should stay home for 5 days and get tested on the fifth day, if possible. After that, continue to wear a mask around others for 5 more days. If you can’t quarantine, you should wear a mask for 10 days. If you have symptoms, get tested and stay home.

Show Sources

CDC: “CDC Updates and Shortens Recommended Isolation and Quarantine Period for General Population.”

The Associated Press: “US officials recommend shorter COVID isolation, quarantine.”

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