CDC drops 5-day COVID isolation guidelines

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People who test positive for COVID-19 no longer need to isolate themselves for five days under new guidance shared Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The agency had been expected to drop the 5-day isolation recommendation. Health officials said Friday that people can return to work or regular activities if they have mild symptoms of COVID-19, are improving and have gone at least one day without a fever, The Associated Press reported.

The changes bring the recommendations in line with those for people diagnosed with other respiratory viruses, such as the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

The CDC laid out justification for the decision in a 25-page document obtained by The Washington Post and in an FAQ posted on its website.

“Our goal here is to protect those at risk for severe illness while also reassuring folks that these recommendations are simple, clear, easy-to-understand and can be followed,” CDC Director Mandy Cohen said Friday, according to the Post. She added that the change “reflects the progress we’ve made in protecting against severe illness from COVID.”

Since Jan. 1, 2020, nearly 1.2 million people have died of COVID-19 nationwide, CDC data shows. At the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the U.S., though it dropped to the 10th last year, according to the AP.

Officials noted Friday that effective vaccines against COVID-19 are widely available and cut the risk of severe disease in half. They added that more than 95% of adults who were hospitalized with the viral infection in fall 2023 were not up to date with their vaccinations.

A vast majority of Americans have some immunity to COVID-19 through vaccination, a previous infection or both, according to the CDC. Far fewer people have been getting seriously ill from the viral infection recently, and fewer complications have been reported, officials added.

“While still posing a significant health threat to those at higher risk, COVID-19 health impacts are now increasingly similar to other respiratory viruses, like flu, which are also important causes of illness and death, especially for people at higher risk,” according to the CDC. “As a result, this the right time to issue unified Respiratory Virus Guidance, rather than additional guidance for each specific virus.”

The CDC has adjusted its isolation guidelines in regard to COVID-19 before. Initially, the agency urged people to avoid others for 10 days after testing positive for the viral infection, though that timeline was halved in December 2021.

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