CDC Updates Guidance, Says People With Covid-19 Only Need to Isolate for 5 Days if Asymptomatic

CDC Updates Guidance, Says People With Covid-19 Only Need to Isolate for 5 Days if Asymptomatic
Photo: Thomas Kienzle / AFP, Getty Images

Citing increased scientific knowledge of covid-19 and the raging omicron variant, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention modified its isolation and quarantine guidelines for people who test positive for the virus and those who are in contact with someone confirmed to be infected.

In an announcement on Monday, the CDC shortened its recommended isolation time for people with covid-19 from 10 days to five days if they are asymptomatic at that time. Nonetheless, individuals must still wear a mask for the five days after their isolation period ends when they are around others to reduce the risk of passing the virus to others.

“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 said. “Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimise the risk of infecting others.”

The health agency also made changes to its recommended quarantine period for people exposed to covid-19. Although they are often used interchangeably, “isolation” and “quarantine” have key differences. As explained by the CDC, you isolate when you have been infected with covid-19, even if you don’t have any symptoms. Meanwhile, you quarantine when you have been exposed to the virus or have had close contact with someone known to have covid-19 but don’t know whether you have been infected.

For people that have been exposed to covid-19, the CDC offered a range of new guidance. It can be summarized as follows:

  • Those who are unvaccinated or who have received their second mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) more than six months ago and have not received a booster shot must quarantine for five days and wear a mask for an additional five days.
  • Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than two months ago and have not received a booster shot must quarantine for five days and wear a mask for an additional five days.
  • Those who have received a booster shot don’t need to quarantine but should wear a mask for 10 days after being exposed.

The CDC said that if a five-day quarantine was not feasible, exposed individuals should wear a mask for 10 days. In addition, the health agency urged all of those exposed to get a covid-19 test five days after they had been exposed. Should they develop symptoms, the CDC recommends that they “immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.”

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement acknowledged the quick spread of the omicron variant and affirmed that it 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,” Walensky said. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”

Walensky added that prevention is the best response to the virus and encouraged the public to get vaccinated, get their booster shot, and wear a mask in public indoor settings if they live in areas of substantial and high community transmission. She also advised people to take a covid-19 test before getting together, something that might be difficult at the moment due to the holiday season, which has put at-home tests and tests at clinics in high demand.

If you’re like me, that’s quite a lot of guidance to keep in mind at all times. It’s complicated, but then again, so is the coronavirus. The key will be transmitting the new guidance in a way everyone can easily remember or understand. Until then, I will be bookmarking this article as well as the CDC’s announcement.


Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.