Health authorities from the United States have agreed to cut by half the 10-day isolation period people newly-infected with SARS-CoV-2 needed to go through after catching the disease, it was announced Monday.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained its decision had been based on the fact that the virus typically spreads early in the course of illness because COVID-19 transmission usually occurs from 1-2 days before the onset of symptoms to 2-3 days after.
The CDC also recommended that people who test positive isolate themselves for five days and, upon leaving quarantine, wear a mask for five days to minimize the risk of infecting other people. The agency also halved the recommended quarantine period for unvaccinated people who are exposed to COVID-19 to five days.
The recommendations, which cut isolation for asymptomatic cases from 10 to five days, open the way for people to return to work sooner.
For those unable to isolate themselves, the CDC advised wearing a mask when around others for 10 days after exposure. The same guidance was issued for vaccinated people who have not received a booster dose.
“The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. “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. These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”
Walensky also warned many Omicron cases were going to be asymptomatic. “We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science.”
With Omicron now the country's dominant strain, more than 200,000 daily cases were recorded over the past two days, quickly approaching records set last January.
US President Joseph Biden has warned Americans not to panic amid a surge of cases threatening wider social disruption. Biden said some US hospitals could be “overrun”, but the country is generally well prepared to meet the latest surge.
The recommendations issued by the CDC are non-binding but are closely followed by US businesses and policymakers.
Biden's administration has been facing tough resistance to coronavirus vaccines, chiefly from Republican circles, while the Democratic stronghold of New York City requires all private-sector employees to get vaccinated and demands proof of full vaccination for anyone aged 12 and older to eat at indoor restaurants or enter other public venues, such as gyms and movie theatres. Children need to have taken at least one vaccine dose.
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