A woman takes an at-home COVID-19 test. Share on Pinterest
Jon Challicom/Getty Images
  • Isolation restrictions for people who test positive for COVID-19, yet remain asymptomatic, were reduced from 10 to only 5 days.
  • The agency also shortened the necessary quarantine time for people who have been in close contact with COVID-positive individuals.
  • In response to mounting criticism, newly revised guidelines were published by the agency on Jan. 4 that include testing negative for COVID-19 as a requirement to leave isolation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised quarantine guidance to shorten the recommended period of isolation after infection with COVID-19 from 10 days to 5 days.

“Given what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation for the public,” the CDC said in the statement.

Isolation restrictions for people who test positive for COVID-19, yet remain asymptomatic, were reduced from 10 to only 5 days. The agency also shortened the necessary quarantine time for people who have been in close contact with COVID-positive individuals.

Absent from the guidelines was any sort of testing requirement to leave isolation.

The new guidelines were criticized by health experts, insisting that without testing, potentially contagious people might leave isolation too soon.

Former Surgeon General Jerome Adams criticized the decision, pointing out that no doctor or scientist he knows would allow themselves or their family to leave quarantine before receiving a negative test result.

“Regardless of what CDC says, you really should try to obtain an antigen test … and confirm it’s negative prior to leaving isolation and quarantine,” he posted to social media.

In response to mounting criticism, newly revised guidelines were published by the agency on Jan. 4.

According to the CDC:

  • You can leave isolation after 5 days if you have not had a fever for 24-hours and your symptoms are improving.
  • If you have access to a rapid antigen test and test positive for COVID-19, you should remain in isolation for another 5 days.
  • If you test negative, you can leave your home, but must continue to mask around others at home and in public until 10 days after your last close contact with a COVID-positive person.
  • If you don’t have access to a test, you should still avoid high-risk settings like nursing homes and wear a mask when in public settings. Additionally, you should avoid traveling.

The revised guidelines specify that people working in “high-risk” settings that include correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and cruise ships, should quarantine for at least 10 days after exposure — regardless of vaccination or booster status.

Recognizing the problem of staffing shortages, the agency also specified that certain facilities may shorten the isolation period, but only after consulting with state, local, tribal, or territorial health departments.

The CDC’s setting-specific guidance offers further recommendations for these settings.

Finally, if you’re in contact with someone who is at higher risk, like people with weakened immune systems, you might consider testing frequently to reduce the chance of disease transmission.

Experts say that early evidence appears to show that the Omicron variant is proving significantly less severe.

“Data around Omicron is still relatively new, but while we are seeing a significant increase in the number of cases, it appears the number of deaths have remained unchanged so far,” Derreck Carter-House, PhD, scientist, assay development at Clear Labs, a leader in fully automated, next-generation sequencing (NGS) for turnkey diagnostics, told Healthline.

According to Carter-House, Omicron is now the predominant strain in the United States, and although CDC data show average daily cases have increased from 87 to 490,000 — the number of deaths have remained at around 1,100 per day.

“However, as we learned from the Delta variant, the number of deaths can trail behind the case rate,” he said.

“Empirical data, including public health statistics and peer-reviewed research, indicate that Omicron causes less severe illness than prior COVID-19 variants,” said Priscilla Marsicovetere, JD, PA-C, Dean of the College of Health & Natural Sciences at Franklin Pierce University.

She added that although this is encouraging news, the Omicron surge is still having severe effects.

“The fact remains that infections are still occurring, healthcare systems are still being stressed, communities are still affected, and people are still dying from COVID-19,” said Marsicovetere. “That means we cannot let our guards down.”

She explained that the potential impact on our society from additional surges, or more importantly, further mutations of the coronavirus, could have “devastating impacts” on the progress made in containing the impact of COVID-19.

“We are not out of the woods yet. Public health safety measures, including vaccination, masks, and physical distancing when appropriate, are still key steps in our ongoing fight against COVID-19,” she said.

Responding to criticism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has changed their reduced isolation guidance. However, the agency still maintains people who have COVID-19 can leave isolation after 5 days even if they have not tested negative if a test is unavailable.

Experts say that although Omicron variant appears to be less severe than previous variants, the high number of cases could still overwhelm healthcare services and this is not the time to let our guard down.

They also say that measures including vaccination, masks, and physical distancing remain crucial in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.