Before closing out 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention left us with a somewhat puzzling gift: new CDC recommendations for quarantine. In a statement issued on December 27, the public health regulators shortened the recommended isolation period for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 to just five days. They added that if people are “asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that [isolation period] by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter.”
The CDC had previously been recommending people who tested positive for COVID-19 isolate for 10 days, so the loosening up of restrictions amidst a record-high surge in COVID-19 cases came as a surprise to many. The new guidelines sparked questions, confusion and a seemingly endless stream of “CDC recommends” memes.
So, what’s the deal? Here’s everything you need to know about the new CDC recommendations for quarantine.
What’s the reasoning for a shorter isolation period?
The CDC’s changes are based on data. “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 guidelines state. That means you’re most likely to spread the virus in the first five days after being infected, regardless of when you test positive.
This is why the CDC also updated its recommendations for how long you should quarantine after being exposed to someone with COVID-19. “For people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC now recommends quarantine for 5 days followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days,” per the guidelines.
For vaccinated and boosted people, the CDC dropped the quarantine recommendation entirely, stating that if you’re vaxxed, boosted, and exposed, you should wear a well-fitting mask around other people for 10 days following your exposure and get a COVID test…