US health officials on Monday cut isolation restrictions for Americans who contract the coronavirus from 10 to five days, and similarly reduced the time it takes for close contacts to self-quarantine.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the guidance is in line with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious two days before and three days after symptoms develop.
The decision was also driven by a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, driven by the omicron variant.
Early research suggests that omicron may cause milder illnesses than previous versions of the coronavirus. But the sheer numbers of people who become infected and therefore have to isolate themselves or quarantine threaten to crush the ability of hospitals, airlines and other companies to stay open, experts say.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the country is about to see many cases of omicron.
“Not all of these cases are going to be serious. In fact, many will be asymptomatic, “he told The Associated Press on Monday. “We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society going while we follow the science.”
Last week, the agency relaxed rules that previously required healthcare workers to be out of work for 10 days if they test positive. The new recommendations say that workers can return to work after seven days if they test negative and have no symptoms. And the agency said the isolation time could be reduced to five days, or even less, if there is a serious shortage of staff.
Now, the CDC is changing the isolation and quarantine guidelines for the general public to be even less strict.
The guides are not a mandate; It is a recommendation to employers and state and local officials. Last week, New York state said it would expand the CDC guidance for healthcare workers to include employees in other critical jobs facing serious staff shortages.
Other states may be looking to shorten their isolation and quarantine policies, and the CDC is trying to stay ahead of the change. “It would be helpful to have a uniform CDC guide” that others could draw on, rather than a hodgepodge of policies, Walensky said.
The CDC’s guidance on isolation and quarantine has seemed confusing to the public, and the new recommendations are “happening at a time when more people are testing positive for the first time and seeking guidance,” said Lindsay Wiley, a public health law enforcement officer. the American University. expert.
However, the guide remains complex.
The isolation rules are for infected people. They are the same for unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, fully vaccinated, or boosted people.
“The clock starts on the day you test positive.”
—An infected person should undergo isolations for five days, instead of the 10 previously recommended.
—At the end of the five days, if you have no symptoms, you can return to your normal activities, but you must wear a mask everywhere, even at home with other people, for at least five more days.
—If you still have symptoms after five days of isolation, stay home until you feel better and then start wearing a mask for five days at all times.
The quarantine rules are for people who were in close contact with an infected person but did not become infected.
For quarantine, the clock starts on the day someone is alerted who may have been exposed to the virus.
Previously, the CDC said that people who were not fully vaccinated and who were in close contact with an infected person should stay home for at least 10 days.
Now, the agency says that only people who received booster shots can skip quarantine by wearing masks in all settings for at least 10 days.
That is a change. Previously, people who were fully vaccinated, which the CDC defined as having two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, could be exempted from quarantine.
Now, people who received their initial vaccinations but no boosters are in the same situation as those who are partially vaccinated or not vaccinated at all: They can stop the quarantine after five days if they wear masks in all settings for five days after. .
Suspending both isolation and quarantine after five days is not without risk.
Many people get tested when they first feel symptoms, but many Americans get tested for other reasons, such as to see if they can visit family or for work. That means a positive test result may not reveal exactly when a person was infected or give a clear picture of when they are most contagious, experts say.
When people become infected, the risk of spreading drops substantially after five days, but it doesn’t go away for everyone, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, a New York physician who is a spokesman for the American Society for Infectious Diseases.
“If you cut it down to five days, it will continue to go to a small but significant number of people who are contagious,” he said.
That’s why wearing masks is a critical part of the CDC’s guidance, Walensky said.
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