Hoping to prevent further disruptions to daily life, the C.D.C. reduced the period that certain infected Americans must sequester.
By Benjamin Mueller and Isabella Grullón Paz
As daily coronavirus cases in the United States soared to near record levels, federal health officials on Monday shortened by half the recommended isolation period for many infected Americans, hoping to minimize rising disruptions to the economy and everyday life.
Virus-related staff shortages have upended holiday travel, leading to the cancellation of thousands of flights, and now threaten industries as diverse as health care, restaurants and retail. Yet health experts warn the country is only in the early stages of a fast-moving surge.
“The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency had previously recommended that infected patients isolate for 10 days from when they were tested for the virus. But on Monday, it slashed that period to five days for those without symptoms, or those without fevers whose other symptoms were resolving.
Americans leaving isolation should wear masks around others for an additional five days after their isolation periods have ended, officials said.
The updated guidance comes amid a rising tide of infections that threatens to swamp the U.S. health care system, particularly given that tens of millions remain unvaccinated. The new recommendations “balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses,” Dr. Walensky said. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”
Still, the C.D.C. did not recommend that people take rapid tests before ending their isolation periods, a step that scientists said would offer considerably more reassurance that people were not continuing to spread the virus.
Health officials also shortened the quarantine period for certain uninfected Americans who were exposed to the virus. They said that people who were unvaccinated had to quarantine for just five days after exposure, down from 14 days. That also applied to people who were six months past receiving the primary series of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or two months past a Johnson & Johnson shot, but who had not received booster shots.
Officials also said that uninfected Americans who had received booster shots did not need to quarantine at all after exposure. But people who have been exposed are encouraged to wear masks around other people for 10 days and get tested five days after being exposed.