US Officials May Cut Recommended Isolation Time for COVID-19 Patients

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.
December 22, 2021 Updated: December 22, 2021

Federal health officials may soon cut recommendations for how long people should isolate after testing positive for COVID-19.

People who have a confirmed COVID-19 infection are currently told by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to remain separate from others for 10 full days from when symptoms first appear, if 24 hours have also gone by without a fever and other symptoms are improving.

Even people who show no symptoms are told to isolate for 10 days.

People who don’t show symptoms initially but do later are directed to start their isolation period anew.

The CDC’s recommendations aren’t mandatory, but are used by companies and governments across the nation.

With the rise in so-called breakthrough infections, or cases among the vaccinated, combined with many patients showing no symptoms, some are agitating for a change in the guidance.

Top Delta Air Lines executives asked Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, on Tuesday to cut the isolation period in half for vaccinated people.

They cited early data on the Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus that indicates the variant transmits more easily than the Delta variant but is less virulent, leading to more mild or asymptomatic cases.

The current guidance was developed in 2020, when the pandemic “was in a different phase without effective vaccines and treatments,” they wrote, adding that without a change, “similar to healthcare, police, fire, and public transportation workforces, the Omicron surge may exacerbate shortages and create significant disruptions.”

Appearing on CBS on Wednesday, Walensky was asked about a possible change.

“We’re actively examining those data now and doing some modeling analyses to assess that and we anticipate that we’ll have some updates soon,” she said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said separately on CNN that lowering the isolation time is being discussed by health officials.

“For example, if you get a health care worker who’s infected and without any symptoms at all, you don’t want to keep that person out of work too very long, because particularly if we get a run on hospital beds and the need for health care personnel, that’s something that at least will be considered,” he said.

According to a study in October, few health care workers with breakthrough cases transmitted the CCP virus.

However, that was prior to the Omicron variant, against which vaccine effectiveness plummets, according to studies from South Africa and other countries.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.