5-day isolation period inadequate, study finds: 3 COVID-19 updates

Experts are raising concerns over COVID-19 isolation guidelines after a new study showed 80 percent of symptomatic participants who were infected when the omicron BA.1 variant was dominant were still testing positive five days after symptom onset. 

The findings were published Oct. 10 in JAMA Network Open and are based on a study involving more than 63,000 participants who tested positive from January 2021 to January 2022. Dec. 1, 2021, to Jan. 30, 2022, was considered the omicron BA.1 variant period. Among 1,613 people with COVID-19 during that time, 31 percent reported their symptoms were the same after five days and about 6 percent reported worsening symptoms. About 80 percent of symptomatic patients remained positive when retested five days later. 

"An isolation period of 5 days after COVID-19 is totally inadequate for most people," Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of Scripps Research Translational Institute in San Diego, wrote in a tweet citing a link to the study. "Negative rapid tests are an essential guide." 

The CDC updated its isolation guidance in December to recommend people with COVID-19 isolate for five days if asymptomatic or if their symptoms are resolving. 

"Past guidance saying people could leave isolation after 5 days may be the single biggest controllable contributor to continued COVID-19 spread," former Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, said in a tweet. "If CDC had recommended 'test to leave [isolation]' and the administration had provided those tests, many fewer infectious people would likely be out." 

Two more COVID-19 updates: 

1. There are mounting signs the U.S. will experience a winter surge, and experts are worried it may collide with a severe flu season. Helix, a lab that assists the CDC with variant tracking, told Becker's that growing reinfections and waning immunity make it "highly likely'" there will be an uptick in cases over the next few months. It's unclear whether a new variant would contribute to a new wave, though new omicron relatives are growing in prevalence. 

2. About 5 percent of eligible Americans have received omicron boosters, according to CDC data updated Oct. 6. About 11.5 million people have gotten the updated shots since the rollout began in early September. White House officials estimate between 13 million and 15 million had gotten their shots by Oct. 9, though CDC data is available only through Oct. 6, according to Politico

"We think that's a really good start," Ashish Jha, MD, White House COVID-19 coordinator, told reporters Oct. 7, according to Reuters. "We need to continue and up that pace as we get into October." 


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