CDC does away with quarantine: 6 notes on updated COVID-19 guidance

People exposed to someone infected with the coronavirus, vaccinated or not, no longer need to quarantine, according to updated CDC guidance released Aug. 11. The new COVID-19 recommendations focus on mitigating the risk of severe disease, rather than infection itself. 

"We're in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools — like vaccination, boosters and treatments — to protect ourselves and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19," Greta Massetti, PhD, a CDC epidemiologist and one of the authors of the updated guidance, said in a statement. "This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives." 

While the CDC did away with quarantine recommendations, the new guidance says people exposed to COVID-19 should wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day five. 

The loosened guidance comes as cases and hospitalizations nationwide have hit a plateau.

Five more notes: 

1. The guidance underscores the importance of staying up to date with vaccination, "especially as new vaccines become available." Omicron-targeted vaccines are  expected to be available in the fall.

2. The six-foot standard for social distancing is no longer an explicit recommendation. The guidelines place less emphasis overall on physicial distancing as a key measure to avoid exposure, instead describing it as "just one component of how to protect yourself and others." The updated recommendations place more onus on individuals to assess the risks and take more precautions in particular settings, such as crowded indoor spaces. 

3.  The CDC no longer recommends routine screening of people without symptoms in most community settings, including schools

4. Isolation guidance for people with COVID-19 remains the same: Isolate for at least five days at home and wear a high quality-mask when around others. Isolation may be ended after five days if a person is fever-free for 24 hours without medication and symptoms are improving, though a mask should be worn through day 10. Immunocompromised people and those who had more severe illness should isolate through day 10. 

5. The FDA on Aug. 9 released a safety alert advising people to perform repeat testing to avoid false negative results when using at-home rapid antigen tests. If a symptomatic person tests negative, they should test again 48 hours later. People without symptoms who may have been exposed should take up to three tests after receiving their first negative result, each separated by a 48-hour period. 

"Be aware that at-home COVID-19 antigen tests are less accurate than molecular tests," the FDA said. "COVID-19 antigen tests may not detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus early in an infection, meaning testing soon after you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 could lead to a false-negative result, especially if you don't have symptoms. This is the reason why repeat testing is important."


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