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New CDC guidance on quarantine, isolation seen as welcome news amid labor crunch

COVID testing
Posted at 5:31 PM, Dec 28, 2021

CLEVELAND — The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has loosened its isolation and quarantine recommendations for Americans who test positive for COVID-19 and those who have close contacts with people infected with the virus. The change in guidance from the country’s top health officials comes as new data shows the virus is most contagious in the two days before symptoms arise as well as the three days that follow.

In an announcement on Monday evening, the CDC said people that test positive for the virus but remain asymptomatic should isolate for five days instead of the previously recommended 10 days followed by five days of masking. For those with lower levels of immunity, including the unvaccinated, partially vaccinated and those who have not received a booster shot, the CDC recommends five days of quarantine as well as an additional five days of masking.

Those that are asymptomatic but fully vaccinated and boosted do not have to quarantine but are recommended to wear a mask for several days.

Health officials said the new guidance was determined after ample data and evidence that COVID-19 is most infectious and contagious in the two days before symptoms appear as well as the three days following symptom onset.

Dr. Claudia Hoyen, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals, said the CDC’s guidance should be taken in among the broader context of the pandemic and related safety measures.

“Clearly, the data shows that it’s really in the first few days and certainly a few days after [that people are most infectious],” Hoyen said. “That doesn’t mean that after day five everybody is automatically in the clear. No matter what aspect of this we look at, it’s really important that people who have been exposed or who have been ill remember to wear their masks when they’re around others.”

The CDC’s new guidance comes shortly after the agency offered updated recommendations for healthcare workers. The CDC’s update states that healthcare workers do not have to isolate for 10 days. Fully vaccinated healthcare workers, which includes a booster shot, do not need quarantine after being exposed. Instead, the healthcare workers can return to work after seven days if asymptomatic and test negative.

“We can all be excited about this but we can’t ignore the information that the CDC has given us and take that as a pass to think that all bets are off. They’re not. We still need to protect those that are vulnerable,” Hoyen said, pointing out that young children are still ineligible to receive the vaccine. “Especially here in Northeast Ohio, we are very stretched not only from the number of patients that are ill with COVID right now as well as employees that are out with COVID right now.”

The change in guidance will likely benefit employers and employees as numerous industries are still trying to navigate an intense labor crunch. That includes the Center for COVID Control, a federally-funded organization that has been organizing and staffing the COVID-19 testing site on Chevrolet Boulevard in Parma. For two straight weeks, the site has been inundated by people seeking a free COVID-19 test. A supply of more than 500 COVID-19 tests ran dry within a few hours on Tuesday, according to supervisor Charity Ward.

“The more employees that we have, the more we could probably have a quicker turnaround time of course. Right now, we’re a little short-staffed,” Ward said. “It would benefit us if any of our girls got sick. We could cut their time in half for quarantine depending on if they are vaccinated or not and boosted.”