The Slatest

CDC Slashes Recommended COVID Isolation, Quarantine Time to Five Days

People wait in line as city workers hand out take-home Covid-19 test kits in lower Manhattan on December 23, 2021 in New York City.
People wait in line as city workers hand out take-home Covid-19 test kits in lower Manhattan on December 23, 2021 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened the time that it recommends people isolate after catching the coronavirus from 10 to five days if they are asymptomatic, and also cut the time that close contacts need to quarantine. The CDC justified the change by saying there’s increasing evidence that people who get infected with COVID-19 are most infectious two days before and three days after the onset of symptoms.

Under the new recommendations, all people who are infected with COVID-19 should go into isolation for five days, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not. After the five days, those without symptoms can go about their daily lives but must wear masks everywhere for five more days. Those who do develop symptoms must remain isolated until they pass. Meanwhile, those who were in close contact with an infected person and have received a booster shot can avoid quarantine if they wear a mask at all times for at least 10 days. Those who have not received boosters should quarantine for five days and wear masks around other for an additional five days. These new guidelines aren’t mandates, but rather recommendations for employers and state and local officials.

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The new recommendations come at a time when the highly transmissible omicron variant is leading to a surge in cases across the country and is sparking labor shortages that were reflected over the holiday weekend when thousands of flights were canceled. The CDC had previously cut isolation and quarantine times for health care workers in an effort to deal with staff shortages. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “The omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society. 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.”

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The CDC cut its recommendation as many had been publicly wondering whether it made sense to maintain the same isolation time for people who had been vaccinated and even received booster shots. But some have been quick to criticize the new recommendations, with epidemiologist Michael Mina characterizing it as “reckless” because it doesn’t require a negative test to end isolation. The CDC says that for everyone who was exposed to the virus “best practice” would involve getting a test five days after exposure.

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