CDC cuts isolation time for Americans who test positive from 10 days to 5

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cut the amount of time it recommends people should isolate after testing positive for the coronavirus, reducing the number of days from 10 to five. 

Health officials similarly reduced the amount of time a person should quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tests positive. 

The changes come amid a surge in cases spurred by the omicron variant and concerns about staffing shortages at hospitals, airlines and businesses across the country. Research has suggested omicron, while more infectious, causes milder illness. CDC officials say the new guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the country is about to see a lot of omicron cases.

“Not all of those cases are going to be severe. In fact many are going to be asymptomatic,” she said Monday. “We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science.”

Last week, the agency loosened rules that had called on health care workers to stay out of work for 10 days if they test positive. The new recommendations said workers could go back to work after seven days if they test negative and don’t have symptoms. And the agency said isolation time could be cut to five days, or even fewer, if there are severe staffing shortages.

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 looking for guidance,” said Lindsay Wiley, an American University public health law expert.

Isolation recommendations are for those who are infected with the coronavirus and start on the day a person tests positive. The agency recommends isolating for five days and going back to normal activities if a person is not showing any symptoms after that period. 

Quarantines are defined differently, because the term refers to those who are in close contact with someone who tests positive. The CDC had recommended that unvaccinated people who come into close contact with someone who tested positive should quarantine for 10 days. The agency had said those who were vaccinated could skip a quarantine.

The CDC is now recommending those who are vaccinated and received a booster shot can skip quarantining if they wear a face mask for at least 10 days. If a person is vaccinated and has not gotten a booster, or if they are partly vaccinated or not vaccinated at all, the CDC recommends a five-day quarantine, then wearing a mask in public for an additional five days.

By John BaconCelina Tebor, Christal Hayes | USA TODAY

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