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  • The CDC has changed the number of days they advise people to quarantine if they have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • People can quarantine for only 7 days if they also have a negative test result for the new coronavirus.
  • Experts say this shortened quarantine schedule means there is a slightly increased risk of transmitting the virus after quarantine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised guidelines for COVID-19 quarantines and lessened the amount of time people have to stay at home.

“After reviewing and analyzing new research and modeling data, the CDC has identified two acceptable alternative quarantine periods,” Dr. Henry Walke, incident manager of the CDC’s COVID-19 response, said during a press briefing this week.

Walke explained that under these options, quarantine can end:

  • after 10 days without a test if the person has reported no symptoms
  • after 7 days with a negative test result if the person has reported no symptoms

He added that local health officials have leeway to adjust CDC guidelines according to conditions in their jurisdictions. Walke also cautioned that people should still monitor their own symptoms for 14 days after exposure.

According to Dr. John Brooks, chief medical officer for the CDC’s COVID-19 response, the risk associated with the new 10-day quarantine increases between 1 and 12 percent.

“That is in the context of both monitoring symptoms during the quarantine period and, importantly, to add to what Walke said, that they also need to monitor for symptoms for the remainder of the 14 days,” Brooks said.

However, he acknowledged that there is still some risk. A person may still pass on the virus after they’ve performed a 7-day quarantine and received a negative test result. He estimated the risk to be between about 5 to 10 percent.

Walke noted that testing around travel won’t eliminate all risk, but when combined with safety measures that include handwashing and mask use, “It can make travel safer.”

Dr. Miriam Smith, chief of infectious disease at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in Queens, New York, told Healthline that getting tested can help significantly mitigate the risk of spreading the new coronavirus.

While the risk of transmitting the virus after quarantine but without a negative test is about 1.4 percent, it falls to under 1.1 percent and even as low as 0.3 percent for people who quarantine and test negative, Smith said.

She explained that the small yet still higher risk of passing the virus after quarantine was weighed against “the personal burdens imposed by longer quarantine.”

During the CDC briefing, Walke said the new recommendations are meant to address one of the biggest problems associated with a 14-day quarantine.

“Reducing the length of quarantine may make it easier for people to take this critical public health action by reducing the economic hardship associated with a longer period,” he explained. “Especially if they cannot work during that time.”

Walke added that a shorter quarantine period could also lessen stress on communities when new infections are rapidly rising.

The revised recommendations apply to those considered close contacts of those with an infection. The CDC defines a close contact as a person “who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 2 days before illness onset.”

According to Smith, for someone who tests positive for the new coronavirus, the best way to reduce spread is adhering to CDC recommendations that include:

  • isolating at home
  • distancing from family
  • wearing a mask
  • regular handwashing, disinfection, and practicing good hand hygiene

“We are on the cusp of having an effective vaccine,” Smith said. She added that until a large percentage of the population is vaccinated, it’s vital to continue to adhere to these recommendations to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

According to the CDC briefing, it’s important for people to keep themselves and their families as safe as possible during the winter holidays. Walke said the CDC recommends postponing travel and staying home. However, if you decide to travel, there are actions you can take to reduce risk.

Walke said the CDC recommends being tested 1 to 3 days before leaving, and again 3 to 5 days after traveling. This should be combined with “reducing nonessential activities for a full 7 days after travel,” he said.

Those who choose not to get tested after travel are recommended to reduce nonessential activities for 10 days.

Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious disease specialist at Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, believes the promise of an effective vaccine has made people less careful about physical distancing.

“I think there is some evidence of that,” said Hirschwerk. “But others are becoming more careful.”

He added that the hope is that we can all become “very compliant” to the mitigation efforts in the next several months “to get us to the point where the vaccine is widely available,” and that these efforts are vital.

However, Hirschwerk insisted that, even with the new guidelines, the CDC still says 14 days is safest. “Regardless of test results, it still is very important to adhere to mask wearing, physical distancing, and avoiding crowds, especially indoors.”

“The [vaccine] rollout will be gradual, but hopefully will steadily ramp up,” Hirschwerk said. “I don’t know when prevention measures will end, but we will get there eventually.”

The CDC has changed quarantine guidelines to reduce the economic impact on people who cannot work while isolating to prevent disease spread.

Previously 14 days, the new guidelines specify a 10-day quarantine for those who do not show symptoms or 7 days with a negative coronavirus test.

While the shorter quarantine period does increase risk, this was weighed against the negative effect a longer quarantine has on individuals and communities.