CDC Reverses 5-Day Isolation Guidelines for COVID-19

This post was first published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials unveiled updated guidelines for individuals with COVID-19 on March 1. The new advice suggests that those infected with the virus should handle it similarly to how they would with the flu or RSV, which involves staying home while experiencing symptoms and a fever.

These updated protocols do away with the previous recommendations for a five-day isolation period and testing for COVID, marking a shift in approach for the federal health agency. The intent behind the new guidelines is to simplify the process for individuals to understand how to safeguard others, especially considering that they may be unaware of the specific virus they have.

“Given the level of protection we now have against the virus and the effective prevention measures known to safeguard ourselves and others, we find ourselves in a different scenario,” noted CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen during a press briefing where she announced the adjustments.

Individuals with COVID can resume their regular activities or work if their symptoms are mild, showing improvement, and if at least 24 hours have passed since the last occurrence of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications. This aligns with the standard procedure for managing the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Post returning to regular routines, the CDC advises individuals to incorporate further strategies over the subsequent five days to prevent virus transmission. These include wearing a well-fitted mask and maintaining a distance from others. Those at high risk for severe illness, like the elderly or individuals with weakened immune systems, are urged to seek prompt treatment to lower the likelihood of severe illness.

The revised guidelines reflect the waning threat posed by the coronavirus and coincide with the upcoming fourth anniversary of Georgia’s initial two confirmed COVID cases.

By this point in the pandemic, the majority of individuals have encountered COVID at least once, with about 98% of the U.S. populace possessing some form of immunity, be it from past infection, vaccination, or a combination of both.

CDC officials have asserted that these adjustments in recommendations should be more straightforward for the public to comprehend and adhere to.

According to health authorities, many individuals have not been diligently adhering to the five-day isolation directive. A recent CDC survey discovered that less than half of those surveyed indicated they would take an at-home COVID test if displaying symptoms.

The CDC also stressed the availability of additional treatments for COVID, such as the antiviral Paxlovid.

Despite available treatments, immunity may diminish as new variants emerge. Therefore, CDC officials continually underscore the importance of receiving updated COVID vaccinations to reduce the likelihood of severe illness. Reports from CDC officials indicate that approximately 95% of individuals hospitalized with COVID during the recent winter season had not received one of the updated vaccines introduced last autumn.

Nationally, the rate of individuals aged 65 and above who have received the updated vaccine since its release last year stands at 41%, marking the highest vaccination rate across all age groups. However, in Georgia, this rate is notably lower, with around 22% of individuals in the 65 and older demographic having received the vaccine, as per data from the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Dr. Cohen highlighted that despite high levels of COVID circulating this winter, hospital admissions related to COVID have plummeted by around 75%. Furthermore, fatalities have decreased by more than 90% compared to January 2022.

Although COVID cases have significantly declined compared to earlier stages of the pandemic, they still surpass influenza cases and can result in more severe outcomes. COVID remains a leading cause of hospitalization and mortality, overshadowing the flu, and can also trigger long-term complications like long COVID that are still being researched by medical professionals.

It’s worth noting that the updated isolation guidelines won’t be applicable to nursing homes and medical facilities housing more susceptible populations, as highlighted by CDC officials.

“It’s important to clarify that COVID-19 is dissimilar to the flu and other respiratory illnesses. It presents distinct characteristics and can have enduring effects,” stated Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the director of the CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory.

While COVID does share similarities with other viruses, which has led to a unified approach in the guidance for these respiratory illnesses, Dr. Daskalakis noted that distinguishing features exist. These include similar symptoms, modes of transmission, and preventive measures

Dr. Jayne Morgan, the executive director of health and community education at Piedmont Healthcare, emphasized that the management of COVID has evolved due to increased immunity among the population. However, the public health risks posed by COVID remain, and the potential emergence of new variants could alter the current outlook.

Jodie Guest, a professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and vice chair of the Department of Epidemiology, anticipates that the new guidelines may encourage more individuals to undergo COVID testing since a positive test no longer necessitates a five-day isolation period.

The original CDC advice prescribed a 10-day isolation period for COVID cases, but this was reduced to five days for asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic individuals in late 2021. Consequently, several companies, including Walmart and Amazon, adjusted their policies on paying employees who had to stay home due to COVID.

Many employers and employees have strayed from complying with the isolation directives in recent years. Questions linger regarding the repercussions of this deviation, particularly concerning workers without paid sick leave potentially reporting to work while still infectious.

Guest voiced apprehensions regarding this trend, stating that the workforce is negatively impacted when contagious individuals feel compelled to work while unwell.