What the CDC's latest COVID-19 quarantine recommendations mean for you

Guidance for asymptomatic people differs depending on vaccination status.

December 27, 2021, 8:37 PM

Amidst growing pressure as COVID-19 cases surge across the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now announced that it will shorten the recommended isolation time for asymptomatic people who test positive for COVID-19, and update guidance for people who have been exposed to the virus.

"The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and 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," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement on Monday.

The change in guidance is based on data which shows that "the majority of COVID-19 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," according to the CDC.

According to CDC definition, isolation relates to behavior following a confirmed COVID-19 infection, and quarantine refers to the confinement period after exposure to someone known to have COVID-19.

Guidance for asymptomatic individuals differs greatly depending on one's vaccination status. Here's what you need to know:

Anyone COVID-19 positive should isolate for at least five days

Anyone, regardless of vaccination status, who tests positive for COVID-19 and is asymptomatic, should isolate themselves for at least five days, down from 10 days, the CDC said.

If you continue to have no symptoms after five days, the CDC states that you may leave isolation if you "continue to mask for five days to minimize the risk of infecting others."

PHOTO: With one member of the family testing positive for the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of COVID, a household under quarantine prepares for a quiet Christmas holiday without friends or extended family in Brooklyn, New York, Dec. 24, 2021.
With one member of the family testing positive for the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of COVID, a household under quarantine prepares for a quiet Christmas holiday without friends or extended family in Brooklyn, New York, Dec. 24, 2021.
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

However, if symptoms, such as a fever, are present, you should continue to stay home until your fever, or the other symptoms, resolve. If your symptoms resolve after five days, and you are without fever for 24 hours, the CDC said you are free to leave your house with a mask on.

According to the CDC, an isolation period of five days, followed by wearing a well-fitting mask around others, will minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others.

What to do if you are exposed to COVID-19, and unvaccinated or not boosted

If you are exposed and unvaccinated, or not fully vaccinated, the CDC now recommends that you quarantine for five days, followed by "strict mask use" for five days after your quarantine. This guidance also applies to people who are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose of the vaccine -- or more than two months out from their Johnson & Johnson Vaccine -- but not yet been boosted.

However, if a five-day quarantine is not feasible, the CDC said it is "imperative" that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times and when around others, for 10 days after exposure.

Fully vaccinated, but still not eligible for a booster

If you were fully vaccinated with either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine within the last six months, or you completed the primary series of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the last two months, the CDC said you do not need to be quarantined after an exposure; however, you should still wear a mask for 10 days, following the exposure.

No need to quarantine if you are boosted and asymptomatic

If you have received your booster shot, you do not need to quarantine after an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days following the exposure.

If symptoms do occur, the CDC stressed that you should immediately quarantine, until a negative test confirms that the symptoms are not due to COVID-19.

PHOTO: A healthcare worker administers a Covid-19 test at a testing site in  Farragut Square in Washington, Dec. 23, 2021.
A healthcare worker administers a Covid-19 test at a testing site in Farragut Square in Washington, Dec. 23, 2021.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

All individuals who have been exposed are recommended to get a COVID-19 test around five days after exposure.

The CDC pointed people to preliminary data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, which demonstrates that vaccine effectiveness against infection for two doses of an mRNA vaccine is approximately 35%, while a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose restored vaccine effectiveness against infection to 75%.

"These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives. Prevention is our best option: Get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission and take a test before you gather," Walensky said.

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