The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has officially cut quarantine restrictions for Americans who contract COVID-19 down from 10 days to five days. Similarly, the CDC has also shortened the time that close contacts are required to quarantine.
CDC officials stated that the guidance is based on growing evidence that people who catch the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop, Associated Press reported.
The decision to shorten the isolation length comes amid a recent surge in COVID-19 cases with the advent of the Omicron variant.
According to the AP, early research of Omicron suggests that the newly-discovered variant may cause milder illnesses than previous variants, including Delta. However, authorities fear that the rise in cases, despite the mildness of the infections, may impact hospitals and the availability of treatment.
"Not all of those cases are going to be severe. In fact many are going to be asymptomatic," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Monday. "We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science."
Last week, the CDC relaxed rules that previously required healthcare workers to stay at home and quarantine for 10 days if they tested positive for COVID-19. The new recommendations allow them to return to work after seven days if they test negative. The agency suggested that isolation restrictions could be limited to five days, or even fewer, to address staffing shortages.
The new advice now applies to the general public, but the CDC stressed that it is not a mandate and merely serves as an advisory for state and local officials, as well as private employers. Walensky said that the new rules are designed to be "uniform" and provide guidance for states, which may be intent on following New York's lead in cutting isolation time to deal with staffing shortages.
The change in isolation recommendations has come with some pushback. Dr. Ashish Jha stated, "Asking people to stay locked up in their home for 10 days after a test, especially if you're vaccinated, just doesn't really make scientific sense."