CDC shortens isolation period for people with Covid

Americans with Covid or other respiratory infections do not need to isolate themselves for five days before returning to work or school, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday, a surprising sign of changing attitudes toward the coronavirus.

People with respiratory illnesses can resume daily activities if they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the help of medication and if their symptoms are improving, agency officials said.

Recognizing that people can be contagious even without symptoms, the CDC urged those leaving isolation to limit close contact with others, wear well-fitting masks, improve indoor air quality, and practice good hygiene, such as washing hands. and cover coughs and sneezes, for five years. days.

The guidelines apply to Covid, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, among other respiratory illnesses, which should make it easier for people to follow them, CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen told reporters on Friday.

“Our goal here is to continue to protect those at risk of serious illness, while also reassuring people that these recommendations are simple, clear, easy to understand and can be followed,” he said.

Dr. Cohen noted the sharp declines in the number of Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths this winter compared to previous years, and said the vast majority of hospitalizations had occurred among Americans who did not receive the latest vaccines.

Vaccination also reduces the chances of suffering from long Covid, he added.

The CDC last changed its isolation policy for those with Covid during the Omicron wave two years ago, when record infections paralyzed the nation. The isolation period was reduced from 10 to five days.

The agency is unifying the recommendation for respiratory illnesses because symptoms are often difficult to differentiate, viruses spread in the same way and can be prevented with similar strategies, said Dr. Brendan Jackson, who leads the agency’s response. to respiratory viruses. equipment.

Some outside experts applauded that change. “I think that makes a lot of sense, because people aren’t getting tested,” said Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center and public health editor-at-large at KFF Health News.

“If you don’t know what virus you have, how are you supposed to follow the correct guidance for Covid versus flu versus RSV versus the common cold virus?” she said.

Even as the agency was considering the change, some experts expressed dismay that it could lead the public to think Covid was no longer a threat. They were also concerned that without a five-day isolation recommendation, employers could pressure employees to return to work before they recovered.

Little has been done to improve indoor air quality in most places, and wearing masks can be socially uncomfortable for many people, Dr. Gounder said.

“This again puts a huge burden on the individual to do the right thing in terms of public health,” he said. Making masks affordable and providing them in public spaces and workplaces would help people follow the new guidelines, he added.

Raynard Washington, public health director for Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, said it was important for officials to continue to emphasize that Covid still posed serious risks to many people.

Still, “having simplified and consolidated guidance across the entire respiratory virus portfolio will allow us to be able to do public health on the ground at the state and federal level, to send a very clear message to people,” he said.

The recommendations are for the general public and do not apply to healthcare or nursing home settings.

Dr. Washington urged Americans to always consider that there may be people around them who are at high risk of contracting a coronavirus infection.

“It’s not like people have a sign saying, ‘I’m immunocompromised,’” he said.