The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention streamlined its guidance Thursday for keeping COVID-19 in check, de-emphasizing social distancing, nixing screening tests for those without symptoms and not recommending people who aren’t current on vaccines quarantine for after being exposed to the virus.
The CDC had previously urged those who haven’t been vaccinated or had a booster shot if eligible to “stay home and quarantine for at least five full days,” while those current on the vaccine or who had recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days did not have to stay home unless they had symptoms.
“We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools — like vaccination, boosters, and treatments — to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19,” Greta Massetti, chief of the CDC’s Field Epidemiology and Prevention Branch, said in a statement accompanying the announcement.
“We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation,” Massetti said. “This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives.”
The CDC now recommends that everyone “wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day five” after exposure to the virus, regardless of vaccination or past infection.
The CDC is no longer recommending screening testing of asymptomatic people without known exposures “in most community settings.” And it now says “physical distance is just one component of how to protect yourself and others.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said that would help with kids returning to class this fall as schools won’t have to worry about maintaining space between desks to reduce outbreaks.
“This latest guidance from the CDC should give our students, parents, and educators the confidence they need to head back to school this year with a sense of joy and optimism,” Cardona said. “While COVID continues to evolve, so has our understanding of the science and what it takes to return to school safely.”
The CDC said that regardless of vaccination status, “you should isolate from others when you have COVID-19,” or are “sick and suspect that you have COVID-19 but do not yet have test results.”
If the test is negative, there’s no need to isolate. But if it’s positive, the CDC says you should stay home for at least five days and isolate from others in your home, and wear a high-quality mask like an N95 or KN95, for 10 days when you must be around others at home and in public.
The CDC said you should avoid being around people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19, such as those who are old or have chronic illness, for at least 11 days.
As before, those who test positive but have no symptoms can end isolation after five days. Those who have moderate symptoms including difficulty breathing or become hospitalized should isolate for a full 10 days.
COVID-19 transmission levels, driven by the now dominant immunity evasive BA.5 omicron subvariant of the virus, are high across 94% of the U.S. and most California counties, including in the Bay Area.
The CDC’s COVID-19 “community level” — a metric introduced last spring that places more emphasis on the disease’s impact on regional medical resources, are high across 42% of the U.S. and many California counties, including every Bay Area county except Marin.
But the summer case surge appears to have peaked and no newer variants have yet emerged that have been gaining ground on BA.5.
The CDC says “it is important to consider the risk in a particular setting, including local COVID-19 Community Levels and the important role of ventilation, when assessing the need to maintain physical distance.”
COVID-19 vaccines now are authorized for everyone 6 months old and up, and two-thirds of Americans and nearly three fourths of Californians are considered fully vaccinated, while just under half across the U.S. and 55% in California have had at least one vaccine booster.
The CDC said “protection provided by the current vaccine against symptomatic infection and transmission is less than that against severe disease and diminishes over time, especially against the currently circulating variants.”
“For this reason,” the CDC continued, “it is important to stay up to date, especially as new vaccines become available.”