CDC Announces a Shortened Period of Isolation for COVID-19

Mongkolchon Akesin /
Mongkolchon Akesin /

Is that some blue sky we see towards the horizon of this pandemic? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week that individuals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 are now asked to isolate for a recommended five days of quarantine. Quarantine refers to the time people stay away from others if they are exposed to a disease but have not yet tested positive or showing symptoms.

This is half the time from the pre-existing recommendation of the past. This is the new standard as long as individuals are no longer showing symptoms from the virus.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in a statement, “The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society. 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.”

She also noted that, with these updates, people can safely continue in their normal daily lives. People who are fully vaccinated and boosted may not need to quarantine at all, the CDC said. But they should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure.

The director did say that prevention is still the best option, so people should get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings, and take a test before they gather with others.

The CDC issued a press release that indicated the change in advice was motivated by science demonstrating that most of the SARS-CoV-2 transmission happens early in the course of the illness. It is common in the 1-2 days before the onset of symptoms and roughly 2-3 days after the onset. The statement from the CDC also said that asymptomatic individuals could leave isolation as long as they wore a mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others. The new advice states that people who were exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case can shorten their isolation to 5 days.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the changes were focused on keeping society running smoothly. He said that with the volume of new cases that we are seeing and expect to continue to see with the Omicron variant, they want to be careful that we don’t have so many people in isolation.

Fauci told Jim Acosta of CNN that they wanted to get people back to their jobs, especially the essential ones.

This change was made using data from South Africa and the United Kingdom. There it was demonstrated that vaccine effectiveness against infection with two doses of an mRNA vaccine was about 35%. But with a vaccine booster dose, vaccine effectiveness against infection rose to 75%.

This new advice from the CDC comes after President Joe Biden admitted that there was “no federal solution” to end the COVID-19 pandemic. It also comes after the CDC announced that healthcare workers who had tested positive could cut their quarantine time. That announcement prompted Dr. Nichole Saphier to ask why everybody could not decrease their quarantine time. She wrote on Twitter, “CDC shortens isolation time for health care workers who test positive for COVID-19. What about everyone else? If the data support shortening for health care workers, why not other workers? Everyone is essential.”

Previously, people who were exposed to Covid-19 but who had not tested positive were advised to quarantine for 14 days, and people who tested positive for Covid-19 were advised to isolate for 10 full days.

This new standard may be signaling an end to overly restrictive guidelines and a step toward normalcy in the American culture.