CDC reduces quarantine recommendations for people exposed to COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday it is shortening the recommended quarantine period for close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19.

The new recommendations drop the 14-day quarantine to 7 days for people who test negative for the virus and 10 days for people who do not get tested.

Quarantining is designed to keep individuals from spreading the virus before they're aware they are ill and potentially contagious.

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Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC's COVID-19 Incident Manager, says reducing the length of the quarantine may make it easier for individuals to comply with public health recommendations.

"People should still watch for symptoms during quarantine for a full 14 days after exposure, especially if quarantine is discontinued early," Dr. Walke says.

The agency's Chief Medical Officer for COVID-19, Dr. John Brooks, says the CDC is revising its quarantine recommendations after extensive modeling showed shortening the quarantine period by several days only slightly raises the risk a person leaving quarantine after 7 to 10 days will spread the virus to someone else.

"In a situation where cases are rising, that means that the number of contacts is rising and the number of people who require quarantine is rising," Dr. Brooks says. "That's a lot of burden, not just on the people who have to quarantine, but on public health. Many times, the public health authorities are responsible for monitoring people during quarantine. They have to follow them to the end.  We believe that if we can reduce the burden a little bit, accepting that it comes at a small cost, we may get a greater compliance overall with people completing a full quarantine in 7 days.  When more people complete that, if we get more people on board to complete that overall, that will result in fewer infections."

The agency is also once again urging Americans to postpone their holiday travel plans.

"Travel volume was high over Thanksgiving, and if even only a small percentage of those travelers were asymptomatically infected, this can translate into hundreds of thousands of additional infections moving from one community to another," Dr. Cindy Friedman, Chief of the Traveler's Health branch of the CDC, says.  "Travel is a door-to-door experience that can spread the virus during the journey and into communities where travelers visit or live."

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If you do decide to travel, the agency is recommending you get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before your trip and get tested again 3 to 5 days after your trip, Dr. Friedman says. 

"Then, reduce all non-essential activity for a full 7 days after your trip, even if your test is negative," she says.

Testing alone, she cautions, will not eliminate all risk.

"But, when it's combined with reducing non-essential activities, symptom screenings, other precautions, such as wearing a mask and social distancing, it can make travel safer by reducing the spread of COVID-19," Dr. Friedman says.

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