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Test Positive for COVID-19? What Is the Current Isolation Guidance from the CDC?


You were vaccinated, boosted, and briefly sidelined with the Omicron variant in January 2022—but now you’ve got a tickle in your throat. Could it be another SARS-CoV-2 infection? And, if it is, what should you do if you test positive for COVID-19? Do you need to tell your boss you’ll be out of the office for five days, ten days, or until you’re no longer symptomatic? 

Isolation and quarantine guidelines for COVID-19 have changed considerably over the past two years. Here’s what you need to know about the evolution of cautionary guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the current precautions when it comes to COVID-19 illness and exposures. 

The Evolution of Isolation and Quarantine Guidance for COVID-19 Illness 

When the SARS-CoV-2 virus first emerged onto the scene in January 2020, next to nothing was known by U.S. health officials about the infectiousness of the virus or its character. One of the main concerns of public health officials was to stop or slow the spread of the disease. For this reason, relatively conservative isolation and quarantine guidelines were set into place. For people who tested positive for the virus, an isolation period of ten days was recommended, and people who were still symptomatic were recommended to isolate for longer. For people who were exposed to the virus, a quarantine period of 14 days was advised. 

In late December 2021, the CDC shortened its recommended isolation time to five days. Additionally, it was recommended that, after five days, if symptoms were improving (including no fever for 24 hours), people could stop isolating and return to their normal activities. However, they would still need to wear a mask for five additional days. 

In late December 2021, the CDC also changed its quarantine guidelines. If unvaccinated persons or people who were unboosted and more than six months out from their vaccine were exposed to COVID-19, they were advised to quarantine for five days and wear a mask for an additional five days. People who had received a booster did not need to quarantine but they did need to wear a mask for ten days. 

Current Isolation and Quarantine Guidelines 

Given this history of evolving recommendations, it’s helpful to have a simple breakdown of current CDC guidance. The current guidelines set forth by the CDC are as follows: 

Isolation: 

People who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate at home for five days. They may end isolation after five days if they’re improving and have not had a fever for 24 hours. They should then wear a well-fitting mask for 5 additional days and avoid traveling until after day 10. 

 

It’s important to note that these guidelines apply to everyone, regardless of vaccination status. 

Quarantine: 

People who are exposed to COVID-19 and are not up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations should quarantine at home for five days and get tested at least five days after the exposure. Then, they should wear a well-fitting mask for fiive more days, and be cautious when it comes to travel. 

 

People who are exposed to COVID-19 and are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, and people who have had a confirmed positive COVID-19 test in the past 90 days, do not need to quarantine at home. They should still get tested at least five days after the exposure, and they should wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days from the exposure. 

How Has COVID-19 Testing Improved? 

Throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 testing has become much more accessible, which has made it easier for people to know when they’re positive for the disease. Before the availability of at-home tests, the only way of knowing if you were positive for COVID-19 was by going to a healthcare facility that did testing. And, because of testing shortages, sometimes you couldn’t even get a test unless you were very symptomatic. Now, testing is available without an order from a healthcare professional, allowing people to track and monitor their status much more easily, from the comfort of home. 

Why Is Isolation Shorter Now Than It Was Two Years Ago? 

As public health experts have learned more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 illness, they have been able to better hone their precautionary guidance. Emerging science shows that the grand majority of infections are transmitted in the early days of COVID-19 illness, either 1-2 days before symptoms begin, or 2-3 days after people are symptomatic. Additionally, the Omicron variant has a shorter incubation period and appears to be more likely to transmit early on, compared to former variants. 

What to Do if You’re Exposed to Someone with COVID-19 

If you’re exposed to someone with COVID-19, your course of action depends on your personal vaccination and infection status. If you’re vaccinated and boosted, the CDC says that you do not need to quarantine at home. You may continue with your activities, making sure to wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days from your exposure and be prudent with limiting your exposures. The same is true if you’ve had a positive COVID-19 test within the past 90 days, regardless of vaccination status. If you're unvaccinated and have not had COVID-19 within the past 90 days, the CDC recommends you quarantine at home for 5 days and continue wearing a well-fitted mask for an additional five days. 

How to Learn More about Isolating and Quarantining for COVID-19 

Although the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is much lower than it was when the pandemic originally began—thanks to vaccines, effective treatments, and a virus that has evolved to be more benign—still more than 100,000 people in the United States testing positive for COVID-19 every day as of June 2022. Your risk of being exposed to COVID-19 remains high, so it’s important to be aware of the present guidelines on COVID-19 isolation and quarantine. To learn more, visit the CDC’s updated page, here. 

Research and materials for this article were compiled, written, and distributed on behalf of the National Public Health Information Coalition. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the various authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Public Health Information Coalition or its members. 

References: 

CDC Updates and Shortens Recommended Isolation and Quarantine Period for General Population. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s1227-isolation-quarantine-guidance.html 

Quarantine and Isolation. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/quarantine-isolation.html 

What we Know About Quarantine and Isolation. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/quarantine-isolation-background.html 

COVID Data Tracker Weekly Review. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html 

Quarantine & Isolation. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/quarantine-isolation.html 

I Have to Quarantine for How Long? And Other COVID-19 Questions Answered. https://www.mtu.edu/news/2020/09/i-have-to-quarantine-for-how-long-and-other-covid19-questions-answered.html 


NPHIC Blog Posts

Is Gun Violence a Public Health Crisis?


With thousands of gun-related injuries and deaths, it’s impossible to overlook that gun violence has become a public health crisis. In 2016, the American Medical Association declared its status based on over 20 years of continued gun violence as a major cause of death in the United States. It offered recommendations for reducing these instances, yet little has changed when it comes to improving gun safety and preventing accidents and attacks like the Sandy Hook and Uvalde shootings, each of which had over 20 deaths. Tackling the gun violence epidemic involves a multifaceted approach that includes awareness and addressing the root causes that promote the prevention of gun-related death and trauma. 

Why Is Gun Violence Awareness Important? 

Gun violence is a complex problem that people often view from limited angles. Understanding all the factors involved helps create a more well-rounded foundation for more effective prevention. Gun violence awareness works to help people understand the causes of gun violence so that professional care providers and the general public can recognize the signs and respond appropriately in dangerous situations. 

Awareness works to reduce certain factors that contribute to gun violence. It also teaches people what factors to look for, including those related to: 

  • Gender 
  • Culture 
  • Psychological elements 
  • Developmental problems 
  • Community factors 
  • Policy 

Most importantly, awareness of this issue and understanding that it’s not only about politics and policy but about public health is the first step to prevention and providing the right resources to those affected by gun violence. 

The Importance of Getting Back on Schedule with Routine Vaccines for Children and Adolescents

The COVID-19 pandemic has made many parents skeptical about vaccines, especially for their children. However, vaccines have proven effective long before the pandemic, and they continue to keep people safe. Vaccines help prevent serious illness, and keeping up with your child’s routine vaccinations ensures that they stay healthier as they grow.

The Importance of Vaccines

Above all, vaccines prevent serious illnesses. Vaccines lower the risk of spreading disease, and they lower the chances of infection. Even the COVID-19 vaccine, which may not fully prevent infection, can drastically reduce the severity of illness.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a recommended vaccination schedule in 1995 that details the vaccines each child should receive before they reach age 18.  It shows when each vaccine should be administered, how many doses it requires, and other information that helps parents understand why children need these vaccines to live a healthier life. These vaccines protect your child against diseases like certain forms of hepatitis, human papillomavirus, chickenpox, and many other diseases that can harm them even later in life.

The Tie Between Long COVID-19 and Mental Health Issues


For many people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 illness, enduring the initial barrage of symptoms is just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, between 10 and 30 percent of people with COVID-19 will go on to develop long COVID-19, an affliction that medical researchers are still trying to understand. Of the host of lingering symptoms that have been associated with long COVID-19, mental health issues and cognitive problems pose a unique burden for a country that is already plagued by a mental health crisis. 

In honor of May’s status as Mental Health Awareness Month, here’s what you need to know about this important health holiday, long COVID-19, the link between long COVID-19 and mental health conditions, and how the federal government plans to address these significant concerns. 

Defining Mental Health Awareness Month and Long COVID-19 Illness 

Each May, several different organizations that are dedicated to supporting those with mental illness and improving care for mental health conditions come together to draw attention to the plight of millions of Americans who suffer from a mental health condition. During this month, partners contribute resources, publicize information about support groups, and share personal stories to destigmatize mental health disorders and encourage people to seek effective treatment. 

This May, it is particularly important to raise awareness about mental health issues, as many people suffering from long COVID-19 illness may be experiencing a mental health concern for the first time. Long COVID-19 is defined by the American Medical Association (AMA) as a “wide range of new or ongoing health problems people may experience more than four weeks after being first infected with SARS-Cov-2.” You don’t have to be supremely ill to develop long COVID illness, as people who only experience mild COVID-19 have gone on to have lingering symptoms. These symptoms can affect every body system, from cardiac to respiratory and psychiatric to gastrointestinal. 

Public Health Nurse and Worker Shortage

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected workers who were closely involved with managing its fallout—such as those in nursing care or public health—compared to workers in other unrelated industries. Both nurses and public health workers laid the initial, critical foundation for the nation’s crisis response, bravely rising to the call of duty with imperfect information. However, two years into the pandemic, with numerous challenges persisting, these frontline workers are grappling with burnout and resultant professional shortages. Unfortunately, attrition within the nursing and public health realms can have a severely negative impact on patients and society as a whole.

Here’s what you need to know about the results of a recent national survey of the public health workforce, the state of the current nursing shortage, and how employers can protect against burnout and retain critical frontline workers.

Pandemic-related strain on public health workers

It's not surprising that the people who were the most exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic may be experiencing its repercussions the most acutely. A recent survey of the public health workforce, which assessed almost 45,000 workers in state and local government public health departments between September 2021 and January 2022, has quantified the impact of the pandemic on quality of life and professional outlook.

The key takeaways of the survey are sobering, with more than one-half of survey respondents reporting at least one symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and one-quarter meeting the official criteria for probable PTSD. Mental health has been further strained among public health workers because of negative external forces, with 41 percent of public health executives noting that they have felt bullied, threatened, or harassed because of their line of work, and 59 percent reporting that they have felt undermined by individuals outside their department. Almost one-third of public health workers note that they are contemplating leaving their job within the next year.

Despite these challenges, which largely contribute to burnout in public health, the majority of those working in public health report being satisfied with their job and organization, and the grand majority believe their work is important and motivates them to do their best every day.

The National Public Health Information Coalition

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