Coronavirus: CDC clarifies isolation guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday clarified its isolation guidelines for people who have tested positive for COVID-19, saying that those who have access to and want to test themselves should use rapid tests toward the end of their five-day isolation periods.

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In an update posted on the CDC’s website, officials said those who test positive should continue to isolate for a total of 10 days. People who test negative were advised to continue wearing masks around others at home and in public for the same amount of time.

Officials released the latest guidance last week, cutting the recommended isolation time for people who test positive for COVID-19, but who do not show symptoms, from 10 to five days. In a news release, the CDC said the decision was prompted by the spread of the omicron variant and scientific evidence showing that most transmission happens “early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to the onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.”

>> Read the CDC’s latest isolation guidance

The change prompted criticism from some experts, who questioned the agency’s decision not to require people undergo testing to confirm that they are negative for COVID-19 before ending isolation.

“It’s frankly reckless to proceed like this,” Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told The Associated Press last week. “Using a rapid test or some type of test to validate that the person isn’t infectious is vital. … There’s no evidence, no data to support this.”

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Last week, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the updated recommendations “balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses.” She told CNN that officials decided against mandating rapid testing for isolation “because we actually don’t know how our rapid tests perform and how well they predict whether you’re transmissible during the end of disease.”

In an appearance Monday on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Walensky said that the tests are best used to diagnose COVID-19 “early in the disease course.”

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“If you have access to a test, and if you want to do a test at day five, and if your symptoms are gone and you’re feeling well, then go ahead and do that test,” she said. “But here’s how I would interpret that test. If it’s positive, stay home for another five days. If it’s negative, I would say you still really need to wear a mask. You still may have some transmissibility ahead of you. You still should probably not visit grandma. You shouldn’t get on an airplane. And you should still be pretty careful when you’re with other people by wearing a mask all the time.”

Some experts have questioned the CDC’s rationale, noting that the latest guidance was released as the U.S. deals with high demand for COVID-19 tests coupled with low supply. Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at the NYU School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital, told NPR that she viewed the lack of a testing requirement as an “example of scarcity determining policy.”

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Last week, Walensky said the updated guidance ensures that “people can safely continue their daily lives.” She urged people to get vaccinated, get their booster shots, wear masks and take COVID-19 tests before attending gatherings.

As of Tuesday morning, nearly 74% of the U.S. population – 244.9 million people – has gotten at least one dose of any of the available COVID-19 vaccines, according to the CDC. Just over 62% of Americans, or 206.5 million people, have been fully vaccinated, and almost 35% of those who have been fully vaccinated have gotten booster shots, CDC data shows.

>> Related: CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explains why agency changed COVID-19 guidelines

Since the start of the pandemic, officials have reported 57 million cases of COVID-19 nationwide, resulting in more than 830,000 deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, 295.4 million cases have been reported, resulting in 5.4 million deaths, according to the university.

The omicron variant of COVID-19 was first detected in the U.S. on Dec. 1 and has since become the dominant variant linked to coronavirus infections nationwide, according to the CDC.