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January 05, 2022

CDC clarifies new COVID-19 isolation guidelines, but does not add testing requirement

The new recommendations simply provide instructions for people who opt to take another test five days after symptoms

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CDC Isolation Testing Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Sipa US

The CDC stopped short of requiring a testing requirement to leave isolation following a COVID-19 infection. The new guidelines leave testing optional at day 5, but provide instructions for people who again test positive.

People who test positive for COVID-19 at the end of their five-day isolation periods should continue isolating for another five days, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. 

The CDC added this clarification to its updated isolation guidance after it was criticized by outside medical experts for excluding a testing component in its advice on shortened isolation periods. The new recommendations were issued last week alongside a shorter quarantine period for people exposed to the coronavirus. 

However, the CDC stopped short of requiring a testing requirement to leave isolation. The new update simply offers guidance on how to respond to the results if people choose to take another test on day 5.

The guidance now says people with COVID-19 can end their isolation periods after five days if they are asymptomatic or are fever-free with improving symptoms. They are advised to continue wearing a mask in public for another five days. Previous guidelines called for a 10-day isolation period. 

If people choose to take a rapid antigen test on day 5 and the test is positive, they are advised to isolate until 10 days after their symptoms started. If the test is negative, they can stop isolating. 

The revised guidance also recommends that people who have just finished isolating avoid places where they cannot wear a mask, such as restaurants and gyms, for another five days. They should not eat around others until day 10. 

Travel is not recommended until at least 10 days after symptom onset. If people must travel between days six and 10, they should wear masks for the entire trip, the CDC says. 

"COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant have increased along with seasonal increases in influenza and other respiratory virus infections," the CDC wrote. "The potential for a large number of cases raises serious concerns about societal impact due to illness, as well as isolation and quarantine requirements."

The agency said it "has been monitoring the emerging science on when and for how long a person is maximally infectious with omicron, as well as the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and booster doses against omicron infection. Data related to mental health effects of the pandemic and adherence to prevention interventions have also been considered."

The shortened isolation and quarantine periods cover the most infectious period of illness and takes into consideration "individual, social and well-being needs, return to work, and maintenance of critical infrastructure," the CDC said. 

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