CDC Shortens COVID-19 Isolation, Quarantine Time for Those Without Symptoms

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December 28, 2021


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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shortened the recommended time for isolation from 10 days to five days for people with COVID-19 — if asymptomatic — followed by another five days of wearing a mask when around others.

The CDC stated Monday that it shortened isolation time guidance for everyone based on what is known about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant at this time.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of (COVID-19) transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after,” the CDC said.

The CDC guidance now states that people who test positive should isolate for five days and, if asymptomatic at that time, may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for five days to minimize the risk of infecting others. However, those with symptoms should immediately quarantine until they test negative for COVID-19.

Additionally, the CDC is updating the recommended quarantine period for those exposed to COVID-19. Quarantine refers to the time following exposure to COVID-19 or close contact with someone known to have COVID-19. Here are the main points:

  • For people who are unvaccinated, or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC now recommends quarantine for 5 days followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days.
  • Alternatively, if a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, “it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure.”
  • People who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure.
  • For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for COVID-19 at day 5 after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until “a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.”

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

In its announcement Monday, the CDC reminded the public that data from South Africa and the United Kingdom indicates that vaccine effectiveness against infection for two doses of an mRNA vaccine — from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — is about 35 percent. But a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose restores vaccine effectiveness against infection to 75 percent, the CDC said.

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