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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

CDC Shortens COVID-19 Isolation Period, Bringing Pushback from Healthcare Community

By Jill Drachenberg, Editor, Relias Media

People who test positive for COVID-19 no longer must isolate for 10 days, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

People with COVID-19 should now only isolate for five days. If they are asymptomatic or symptoms are improving, people may resume their normal activities and mask around other people for five additional days. A negative test result is not required.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after,” the CDC said in its announcement.

Additionally, people who have received their booster shots and are exposed to COVID-19 do not need to quarantine but should wear a mask for 10 days. Unvaccinated people and those who have not received booster shots can quarantine for five days and wear a mask for five days after.

In separate guidance, the CDC said healthcare workers who test positive may isolate for five days before returning to work if the healthcare facility is experiencing staffing shortages. Workers who have received booster shots can continue to work if they are asymptomatic.

“The omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society. CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said in a statement. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”

The guidance comes as the United States is facing a surge in COVID-19 cases spurred by the omicron variant. New U.S. cases reached an all-time high, soaring to more than 265,000 per day, shattering the previous record of 250,000 in January. Omicron is responsible for 58.6% of these cases.

News of the guidance has been met by confusion and some resistance from the healthcare community. The guidelines rely on what is largely an honor system for those who are infected, trusting they will stay home if symptomatic and wear masks when they are out. Many people might not take a follow-up test to ensure they are negative before ending their isolation – especially now that home antigen tests are impossible to find. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will not adopt the guidelines, stating they will “review the supporting evidence behind this guidance, while awaiting additional information from the CDC, specifically for special populations and in high-risk settings.”

National Nurses United (NNU) condemned the CDC’s decision, stating that changing the isolation protocols for healthcare workers “in the face of what could be the most devastating COVID-19 surge yet will only result in further transmission, illness, and death.” Arguments for loosening protocols were based on “maintaining business operations, revenues, and profits, without regard for science or the health of employees and the public.”

“Nurses and other healthcare workers have worked on the frontlines of this pandemic for nearly two years. We are exhausted. We have experienced incomparable loss,” NNU President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN, wrote in a letter to Walensky. “Too many of us have experienced deep moral distress and injury caused by the abandonment of our health and safety by our employers and governments during the pandemic. We continue to have to fight for the workplace protections we need to care for our patients safely.”

The latest information on the CDC guidance and healthcare workers will be available in the February 2022 issue of Hospital Employee Health.