The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its COVID-19 guidance Thursday to ease recommendations for people who are unvaccinated and have been exposed to COVID-19.
Previously, the CDC advised that people who were unvaccinated or hadn't received their booster shots should quarantine for five days after exposure. If no symptoms appear, the quarantine can end.
The new guidance no longer recommends that unvaccinated people quarantine after exposure, instead suggesting they mask up for 10 days and get tested five days after they were exposed.
This is the same guidance that was previously given to vaccinated and boosted people who were exposed to COVID and essentially simplifies the CDC's quarantine recommendation. Americans who are exposed to the virus, regardless of vaccination status, no longer need to stay at home if they've had an exposure, per the CDC's latest guidelines.
"We're in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools -- like vaccination, boosters, and treatments -- to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19," Dr. Greta Massetti, chief of the field epidemiology and prevention branch at the CDC and one of the authors of the updated guidance, said in a statement.
"This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives," she said.
The CDC also included updated guidance on how people can use testing to end their isolation after getting sick with COVID-19, recommending two negative tests 48 hours apart before going out in public again without a mask.
The new guidance recommends people take their first test on day six of isolation if they're fever-free, with a second rapid test 48 hours later.
If both tests are negative, people can leave their homes and not use a mask around others. Massetti said the CDC decided to recommend two tests, two days apart, because of recent Food and Drug Administration studies showing the serial testing, or testing multiple times, improves efficacy of rapid tests.
"We want to ensure that when people are using an antigen test, that we're relying on the most accurate information, avoiding potentially making decisions based on false negative results," Massetti told reporters Thursday.
Waiting 48 hours before taking another test mitigates "some of those performance issues," she said.
But officials were clear that the CDC still considers testing optional and doesn't expect all Americans to have access to tests.
"We are still recommending that decisions for ending isolation should be based on symptoms and time," Massetti said.
The guidance Massetti referred to suggests that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should isolate for at least five days.
If the person remains fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication by day 5, or never had symptoms, they can end isolation but are advised to wear a mask for a full 10 days.
The CDC also said it was no longer recommending schools use test-to-stay, which allowed students who were close contacts of those who test positive for COVID to continue to attend in-person classes as long as they remain asymptomatic and continue to test negative.
Massetti said because unvaccinated and vaccinated people no longer are advised to quarantine, test-to-stay was no longer necessary.
"Because we're no longer recommending quarantine, we're no longer including a section on test-to-stay because the practice of handling exposures would involve masking rather than a quarantine, and test-to-stay was an alternative to quarantine," she said.
The CDC also said it was removing its recommendation of testing asymptomatic people without known exposures in most community settings and deemphasizing six feet of social distancing, which has been recommended since the early days of the pandemic.
"Physical distance is just one component of how to protect yourself and others," the guidance reads. "It is important to consider the risk in a particular setting, including local COVID-19 Community Levels and the important role of ventilation, when assessing the need to maintain physical distance."