CDC: People With COVID Don't Need to Isolate for 5 Days

The science of the illness is unchanged, but the toll has lessened
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 1, 2024 2:15 PM CST
CDC: People With COVID Don't Need to Isolate for 5 Days
An elementary school classroom sits empty in August 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York.   (AP Photo/Brittainy Newman, File)

Americans who test positive for COVID-19 no longer need to isolate for five days, US health officials announced Friday. The CDC changed its longstanding guidance, saying that people can return to work if they meet certain conditions. COVID-19, of course, is no longer the public health menace it was—after being the nation's third-leading cause of death early in the pandemic, it was 10th last year. Most people have some immunity from past vaccinations or infections, the AP notes. And many don't follow the five-day isolation guidance anyway.

Questions and answers, per the AP:

  • What are the new guidelines? If you have symptoms, stay home until they're mild and improving and it's been a day since you've had a fever. To remain cautious, wear a mask and keep a distance from others. The agency urges people to try to prevent infections in the first place, by getting vaccinated, washing their hands, and bringing more outdoor fresh air inside.
  • Why the change? It's part of an effort to streamline recommendations and make them similar to those for flu and other respiratory viruses. Many people with a runny nose, cough, or other symptoms aren't testing to distinguish whether it's COVID-19, flu, or something else. There's been no recent change in the science of how long people with COVID-19 are likely contagious, said Jennifer Nuzzo of Brown University's School of Public Health. "What has changed is how much COVID is harming us as a population."
  • Is there concern about the change? "My biggest worry in all of this is that employers will take this change in guidance to require employees to come back to work ... before they are ready to, before they feel well enough, and before they are not likely to pose harm to their co-workers," Nuzzo said.
(More COVID-19 stories.)

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