CDC updates COVID-19 guidance; eliminates 5-day isolation period

The latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that we have entered a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 1, 2024, the CDC officially eliminated the five-day isolation period for people with COVID-19. The CDC also adopted a unified approach to addressing risks from a range of common respiratory viral illnesses, such as COVID-19, flu and RSV. According to the CDC, the updated recommendations reflect “the progress we have made in protecting against severe illness from COVID-19.”

While COVID-19 remains a public health threat, it is no longer the emergency that it once was. According to the CDC, there are fewer hospitalizations, complications, and deaths due to COVID-19. And, in addition to vaccines and treatments being widely available, there is a high degree of population immunity against COVID-19. The CDC estimates that 98 percent of people aged 16 years and above have antibodies against COVID-19 (14% from vaccination alone, 26% from infection alone, and 58% from both). These factors contributed to the CDC’s decision to eliminate the 5-day isolation period for people with COVID-19.

The previous COVID-19 guidance recommended a minimum isolation period of 5 days, plus a period of post-isolation precautions. The updated guidance recommends that people stay home and away from others until at least 24 hours after both their symptoms are getting better overall, and they have not had a fever (and are not using fever-reducing medication). Symptoms may include chest discomfort, chills, cough, decrease in appetite, diarrhea, fatigue (tiredness), fever or feeling feverish, headache, muscle or body aches, new loss of taste or smell, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, vomiting, weakness, wheezing.

Since a residual risk of COVID-19 transmission remains after the period in which people are recommended to stay home and away from others, upon resuming normal activities, people are encouraged to take enhanced precautions for the next 5 days to curb disease spread (masking, social distancing, etc.). These enhanced precautions are important to protect those most at risk for severe illness, including older adults, young children, and people with weakened immune systems (diabetics, pregnant, recently pregnant, etc.).

It is important to note that the updated guidance states that testing is an option during the 5 days of additional precautions following the “stay home” period. CDC guidance throughout the pandemic recognized that repeated testing through the course of illness is not practical for many people.

For a summary of the updated recommendations, check out the CDC’s Respiratory Virus Guidance Snapshot.

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