Last Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed many of the recommendations surrounding the coronavirus. Officials made the changes after the lower fatality rate from Covid-19 has become the trend. The agency is shifting focus from slowing the transmission of the virus among the entire population to protecting those most vulnerable and preventing severe illness.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the virus has killed over 1 million Americans. Currently, the highly contagious Omicron subvariant, BA.5, is spreading, causing over 100,000 cases, 42,000 hospitalizations, and almost 500 deaths daily.
In a press conference, Greta Massetti, a CDC epidemiologist, stated, “We know that Covid-19 is here to stay. 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 new guidelines shift the responsibility for risk reduction away from institutions, such as businesses and schools, to individuals. There’s less emphasis on social distancing since the agency no longer recommends the six-foot rule. Instead, the agency suggests individuals can reduce their risk level by avoiding crowded areas and maintaining a distance from others.
When it comes to masking, the agency still recommends that people wear them indoors in places where community Covid-19 levels are high.
However, the quarantine rule has changed. The revised guidelines state individuals exposed to the virus no longer have to quarantine at home regardless of whether or not they’ve been vaccinated. However, the agency indicates if a person is exposed, they should wear a mask for 10 days and get tested for the virus on Day 5.
If a person tests positive, they should still isolate at home for at least five days. If the individual has a moderate or severe illness or are immunocompromised, they should isolate through Day 10. Yet, the CDC didn’t call for a negative test before exiting isolation.
Many health experts feel the new guidelines are a sensible transition to living with the virus in the longer term. Also, they state the new guidelines are easier for the public to follow. Other experts point out that if cases surge during the fall and winter or a new variant emerges, the guidelines might need to be revised back to stricter measures.
As the CDC is reducing restrictions, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has increased the number of home tests they suggest taking to ensure that an individual isn’t infected after being exposed to the coronavirus. Before the changes, the guideline was two rapid antigen tests done over two or three days for any individual exposed, regardless if they had symptoms.
Now, people without symptoms should use three home tests spread over several days. Antigen tests can give false negatives when taken too early since it can take several days for antigen levels to reach a detectable amount in the nose. Individuals with symptoms can still use two tests spaced 48 hours apart.