Women walk past a novel coronavirus testing site in Los Angeles, California on December 1, 2020.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Wednesday shortened alternatives to the recommended quarantine for people exposed to someone with Covid-19, said Dr. Henry Walke, the agency’s incident manager for Covid-19.
It was previously recommended to anyone who was exposed to the Covid-19 quarantine for 14 days. Walke said the agency continues to recommend a 14-day quarantine “to best reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19”. However, he said the CDC had identified “two acceptable alternatives”.
The quarantine can end after 10 days if the person has not developed symptoms, Walke said, adding that it can end after just seven days if the asymptomatic person also tests negative for the virus.
“We’re continuing to refine our policies to prevent transmission and protect Americans,” said Walke. “Shortening the quarantine length can make it easier for people to pursue critical public health actions by reducing the economic hardships associated with prolonged periods, especially if they are unable to work during that time.”
Walke added that local health officials can tailor the agency’s recommendations to the situation in their jurisdiction. He said regardless of the length of the quarantine, people should monitor their own symptoms for a full 14 days after exposure.
Dr. John Brooks, the chief medical officer for CDC’s Covid-19 response, said ending quarantine after 10 days without a negative test results in about a 1% risk of spreading the virus to others, based on the modeling through the CDC and outside researchers. After a 7-day quarantine with a negative test, there is a 5% chance the virus will spread, he added.
The recommended quarantine is for those who are considered “close contacts” of Covid-19 patients. The CDC defines close contact as “someone who has been within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more for a period of 24 hours from 2 days before the onset of the disease” or a positive test result.
Public health professionals have been “waiting with great anticipation” for the change, said Dr. Bill Schaffner, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University, in a telephone interview on Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the CDC considered such a change.
The original quarantine period of 14 days was based on the coronavirus incubation period, which scientists consider tedious, when there are no symptoms and it is difficult to detect the virus. Schaffner pointed out that the 14-day recommendation was “written before tests were widely available” and researchers have since learned more about the virus.
“Some of us have been thinking for a while that now that tests are available, you can introduce this into the quarantine scoring scheme,” he said, adding that it will help potentially exposed people get through faster Return to work.
“It’s good for public health and good for the economy,” he said, “and good for people’s mental health.”
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