Updated Wednesday January 5, 2022 at 9:16am
On December 27th, 2021, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shortened the recommended isolation time for individuals who test positive for COVID-19. The updates come as the Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the United States. The new recommendation states that individuals should isolate for five days, down from the previously recommended ten days, if they are no longer showing symptoms. After which they should wear a well-fitting mask around others for at least five additional days.
Additionally, the CDC shortened the recommended isolation time for vaccinated individuals who may have been exposed to the virus to five days as well. Those who are fully vaccinated and boosted may not need to quarantine at all but should wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for ten days after exposure.
“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after”, the CDC stated in a press release.
The decision has been met with some backlash. Many saw the agency’s more relaxed stance as an economic consideration rather than a public health decision. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s chief medical adviser, told NBC Nightly News, "on balance, if you look at the safety of the public, and the need to have society not disrupted, this was a good choice."
Amidst the pushback, the CDC is considered altering the recommendations to include a negative COVID-19 test prior to leaving isolation. On January 4th, the CDC updated their isolation guidance. While they still do not recommend a rapid test after 5 days, they do suggest that if a test is taken and is positive, individuals should continue to isolate until 10 days after their symptoms began. Those who are isolation are also urged to wait to travel for 10 days.
CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky spoke with Stephen Colbert on CBS’ “The Late Show” saying, “if you have access to a test, and if you want to do a test at day five, and if your symptoms are gone and you're feeling well, then go ahead and do that test. But here's how I would interpret that test. If it's positive, stay home for another five days. If it's negative, I would say you still really need to wear a mask. You still may have some transmissibility ahead of you. You still should probably not visit grandma. You shouldn't get on an airplane. And you should still be pretty careful when you're with other people by wearing a mask all the time.”