CDC drops quarantine requirement for COVID-19 exposure

The nation’s top public health agency on Thursday relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines, dropping the recommendation that Americans self-quarantine if they come into close contact with an infected person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said people no longer need to stay at least 6 feet away from others.

The changes are driven by a recognition that — more than 2 1/2 years since the start of the pandemic — an estimated 95% of Americans age 16 and older have acquired some degree of immunity, either from being vaccinated or infected, agency officials said.

“The current conditions for this pandemic are very different from the past two years,” said the CDC’s Greta Massetti, an author of the guidelines.

The CDC recommendations apply to everyone in the United States, but the changes could be especially important for schools, which resume classes this month in many parts of the country.

Perhaps the biggest education-related change is the end of the recommendation that schools conduct routine daily tests, although that practice may be reinstated in certain situations during a spike in infections, officials said.

The CDC also dropped a “test-to-stay” recommendation that said students exposed to COVID-19 could regularly test — rather than quarantine at home — to continue attending school. With no quarantine recommendation anymore, the testing option also disappeared.

Masks are still recommended only in areas where transmission in the community is considered high or if a person is considered to be at high risk of serious illness.

School districts across the U.S. have been scaling back their COVID-19 precautions in recent weeks, even before the CDC relaxed its guidance.

Masks will be optional in most school districts when classes resume this fall, and some of the nation’s largest districts have scaled back or eliminated COVID-19 testing requirements.

Some have also moved away from test-to-stay programs that became unmanageable during increases of the omicron variety last school year. With so many new infections among students and staff, many schools struggled to trace and test their close contacts, leading to a temporary return to remote classes in some places.

The average number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths has been relatively flat this summer, with about 100,000 cases per day and 300 to 400 deaths.

The CDC has previously said that if people who are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations come into close contact with someone who tests positive, they should stay home for at least five days. Now, the agency says home quarantine isn’t necessary, but it’s urging those people to wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested after five.

The agency goes on to say that people who test positive must isolate themselves from others for at least five days, regardless of whether they are vaccinated. CDC officials advise that people can end isolation if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication and are symptom-free or symptoms are improving.

-Binkley reported from Washington, DC

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