What’s something that feels like good news, but probably isn’t?
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new guidance around self-isolation for people who test positive to COVID-19 — namely, that they can do less of it.
Specifically, the recommended isolation period for people who have tested positive but are asymptomatic has been halved from 10 days to five. The CDC says that if you’re not showing symptoms, instead of isolating or quarantining for those last five days, you should wear a mask when you’re interacting with other people. The guidance also recommends similar timing for people who’ve been exposed to confirmed cases but are unvaccinated or haven’t received a booster shot yet, adding that if quarantining isn’t possible, exposed contacts should wear a mask around others at all times for the full 10-day period.
“CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci called the changes “prudent”, telling CNN that they would help get people back to work sooner after an infection or exposure.
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But the updated guidance comes in the middle of a new wave of COVID cases. On Tuesday, the U.S. recorded an unprecedented seven-day average case count of 254,496, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus spreads rapidly throughout the country and the Delta variant continues to make up a significant proportion of cases.
So, understandably, many people are feeling a little nervous about any dialling back of precautionary measures designed to keep people who are or may be infectious from spreading the virus.
And as often happens, this nervousness manifested in part as a Twitter meme. Cue an avalanche of users claiming that the CDC says a whole lot of terrible ideas are chill and good, actually.
On a more serious note, some experts have questioned the wisdom of allowing a shorter isolation or quarantine period without requiring a negative test before infected or exposed people head back into the world. While there are real issues with getting a timely PCR or even an at-home rapid test in areas all over the U.S., recommending that people at least try to confirm a negative result before heading out to work, brunch, or a NYE party feels like a no-brainer.
The CDC’s recommendations are based on the latest available science, and you should absolutely continue to follow the expert guidelines when it comes to keeping yourself and others safe as we head into the third year of the pandemic. But if the vibes seem off, feel free to take whatever extra precautions you want.