C.D.C. Eases Covid Guidelines, Noting Virus Is ‘Here to Stay’

The new guidelines eliminate quarantines and put less emphasis on social distancing, routine surveillance testing and contact tracing.

People who are exposed to the virus no longer need to quarantine at home, regardless of their vaccination status, according to the new guidelines, but they should wear a mask for 10 days and get tested for the virus on Day 5. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
[nytimes.com – 2022.08.11] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened Covid-19 guidelines on Thursday, freeing schools and businesses from the onus of requiring unvaccinated people exposed to the virus to quarantine at home.

The changes are a sharp move away from measures such as social distancing requirements and quarantining, which had polarized much of the country, and effectively acknowledge the way many Americans have been navigating the pandemic for some time. The agency’s action comes as children across the country return to school and many offices have reopened.

“We know that Covid-19 is here to stay,” Greta Massetti, a C.D.C. epidemiologist, said at a news briefing on Thursday. “High levels of population immunity due to vaccination and previous infection, and the many tools that we have available to protect people from severe illness and death, have put us in a different place.”

The C.D.C.’s new guidelines come after more than two years of a pandemic in which more than one million Americans have died. With the highly contagious BA.5 subvariant of Omicron spreading, the United States is recording more than 100,000 cases and nearly 500 deaths a day on average.

But many Americans dispensed with practices such as social distancing, quarantine and mask-wearing long ago.

“I think they are attempting to meet up with the reality that everyone in the public is pretty much done with this pandemic,” said Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, referring to the C.D.C.

The C.D.C. said it is making changes now because vaccination and prior infections have granted many Americans some degree of protection against the virus, and treatments, vaccines and boosters are available to reduce the risk of severe illness.

The changes shift much of the responsibility for risk reduction from institutions to individuals. The C.D.C. no longer recommends that people stay six feet away from others. Instead, it notes that avoiding crowded areas and maintaining a distance from others are strategies that people may want to consider in order to reduce their risk.

And the recommended prevention strategies no longer draw a distinction between people who are up-to-date on their vaccinations and those who are not, streamlining a complicated set of rules that could be difficult for schools and businesses to navigate.

People who are exposed to the virus no longer must quarantine at home regardless of their vaccination status, although they should wear a mask for 10 days and get tested for the virus on Day 5, according to the new guidelines.

Instead of focusing on slowing transmission of the virus, the recommendations prioritize preventing severe illness. They emphasize the importance of vaccination and other prevention measures, including antiviral treatments and ventilation.

The guidelines around masking — which recommend that people wear them indoors in places where community Covid-19 levels are high — have not changed.

And people who test positive for the virus should still isolate at home for at least five days. Those who had moderate or severe illness, or are immunocompromised, should isolate through Day 10.

Many health experts praised the new guidelines as representing a pragmatic approach to living with the virus in the longer term.

“I think this a welcome change,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It actually shows how far we’ve come.”

Joseph Allen, a Harvard University researcher who studies indoor environmental quality, praised the new guidelines for putting more emphasis on improving ventilation.

“Good ventilation is something that helps reduce the risk of transmission that isn’t political and doesn’t require any behavior change,” he said.

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