On Monday, U.S. health officials reduced restrictions for Americans who catch the coronavirus and are asymptomatic.
The new guidance indicates that an individual with Covid-19 should go into isolation for five days (instead of the previously recommended 10). After five days, if an individual does not have symptoms, they can return to normal activities while wearing a mask — including at home with others — for at least five more days. People should still continue to isolate themselves while they experience symptoms and can begin their five days of masking when they no longer have symptoms.
The CDC says that the guidelines have been updated in order to reflect growing evidence that suggests transmission of Covid-19 often occurs one to two days before the onset of symptoms and during the two to three days after.
The CDC also changed the recommendations for those who are exposed to Covid. Previously, the organization said people who were fully vaccinated and were exposed could skip quarantine. Now only those who got booster shots can skip quarantine if they wear masks in all settings for at least 10 days.
Following the announcement, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, spoke with journalists about the CDC’s reasons for updating their recommendations.
“The reason is that with the sheer volume of new cases that we are having and that we expect to continue with Omicron, one of the things we want to be careful of is that we don’t have so many people out,” Fauci told CNN’s Jim Acosta. “I mean, obviously if you have symptoms you should [be out], but if you are asymptomatic and you are infected we want to get people back to jobs — particularly those with essential jobs to keep our society running smoothly.”
For instance, many hospitals are facing, or fear they may face, staff shortages. In response, last week, the CDC loosened quarantine rules for healthcare workers.
Fauci said he supported the CDC’s decision.
“I think that was a very prudent and good choice on the part of the CDC which we spent a considerable amount of time discussing,” he said. “Namely, getting people back in half the time that they would have been out so they can get back to the workplace doing things that are important to keep society running smoothly.”
Fauci reiterated this point to MSNBC’s Tiffany Cross and said the CDC’s decision is “prudent” and “based on science.”
“Instead of keeping people out of action, out of work, out of society, for 10 days, if you’re infected and without symptoms then you have 5 days of isolation and then you can go back out into society with a mask worn consistently,” he said.
Experts agree that the omicron variant is highly transmissible and poses a severe threat to health care systems even if symptoms are milder than previous strains.
“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,” says CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”
Walensky also stressed that “Prevention is our best option: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission, and take a test before you gather.”