On Monday (Dec. 27), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials lowered isolation requirements for Americans who test positive for COVID-19 10 to five days. They also shortened the time that close contacts are required to quarantine.
U.S. health officials said the change is due to mounting evidence that people with COVID-19 are most infectious in the two days before and three days after they start experiencing symptoms. They also made the change due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases across the U.S., largely brought on by the omicron variant.
Early research on omicron indicates the variant might cause milder illnesses than other variants of the coronavirus. But, since omicron is projected to be much more contagious than previous variants, the large number of people becoming infected and having to quarantine would possibly disrupt hospitals, airlines and other businesses.
Last week, the CDC released new guidelines for health care workers stating workers could go back to work after seven days, instead of the previous 10, if they test negative and don’t exhibit symptoms. Isolation time could also be reduced to five or fewer days if there are severe staffing shortages, the agency also stated. The new guidelines also include employees in other critical areas of work who are experiencing staffing shortages.
“The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses. These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives. Prevention is our best option: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission, and take a test before you gather.”
The CDC’s guidelines and isolation rules for people who are infected don’t differ for those who are unvaccinated, partly vaccinated, fully vaccinated or boosted.
According to the guidelines, the clock starts the day you test positive. An infected person should go into isolation for five days, instead of the previously recommended 10. If you have no symptoms or your symptoms are resolving after five days, you can leave your house, but you must continue to wear a mask around others for five additional days.