CDC shortens isolation time for asymptomatic COVID-19 to five days

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is cutting its recommended isolation time for people infected with COVID-19 from 10 to five days, as long as they are asymptomatic.

The agency on Monday said that change applies to everyone, regardless of vaccination status and that after the five days is up, people should wear a mask around other people at all times for another five days.

Additionally, CDC said it was shortening the recommended quarantine to five days for people who are unvaccinated or vaccinated but not boosted if they are exposed.

For people who are vaccinated and boosted, CDC said there's no need to quarantine. 

Isolation is the recommended course of action when someone tests positive for COVID-19, while quarantine is suggested for a healthy person with an exposure to someone who tested positive.

CDC said the change was driven by science showing that the majority of virus transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the first two days prior to onset of symptoms and the two to three days after.

"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," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. 

For anyone exposed to the virus, CDC said best practice would also include a coronavirus test five days after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.

"This is a great example of following the science," said Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and a dean at the Brown University School of Public Health. "We don't need to continue to do things the same way, just because they've always been done that way. We should follow what we're learning about the virus."

But Ranney said she was concerned that people wouldn't wear masks after the five days in isolation or quarantine, particularly people who are not vaccinated.

She also said she wasn't sure why CDC would apply the same isolation standard to everyone regardless of vaccination status, since studies show the period of infectiousness is shorter for people who have been vaccinated.

Monday's announcement follows the agency's move last week to change guidelines to allow health care workers to reduce their time in isolation from 10 days to seven, or even five in times of a staffing crisis.

As the omicron variant stretches many hospitals and health workers to near breaking, federal officials said they want to make sure there are enough staff when there's a COVID-19 outbreak.

"If it's good enough for health care workers, it should be good enough for everyone," Ranney said. "If the rules truly are that if you are asymptomatic, you can shorten your isolation, that's fair. And that's backed up by the science."

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