CDC relaxes its Covid guidelines, signaling new phase of pandemic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened Covid-19 guidelines on Thursday, freeing schools and businesses from requiring unvaccinated people exposed to the virus to quarantine at home.

The changes are a sharp departure from measures such as social distancing requirements and quarantines that had polarized much of the country, and effectively acknowledge the way many Americans have been navigating the pandemic for some time. The agency’s action comes as children across the country return to school and many offices have reopened.

“We know that Covid-19 is here to stay,” CDC epidemiologist Greta Massetti said at a news conference Thursday. “High levels of population immunity due to vaccination and previous infection, and the many tools we have available to protect people from serious illness and death, have put us in a different place.”

The CDC’s new guidelines come after more than two years of a pandemic that has killed more than 1 million Americans. With the highly contagious BA.5 subvariant of omicron spreading, the United States is reporting more than 100,000 cases and nearly 500 deaths per day on average.

But many Americans dispensed with practices such as social distancing, quarantine and wearing masks long ago.

CDC is updating its guidance to help you better understand how best to protect yourself and others #COVID-19[FEMALE[FEMININE. Learn more: https://t.co/DmfPOAPMjW. pic.twitter.com/8F8U0iz2JU

— CDC (@CDCgov) August 11, 2022

“I think they’re trying to face the reality that everybody in the public is pretty much done with this pandemic,” Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, said, referring to the CDC.

The agency has been working for months on the new guidance, which builds on previous recommendations issued in February, when the agency shortened solitary confinement times for many Americans. The CDC said it is making changes now because vaccination and prior infections have given many Americans some degree of protection against the virus, and treatments, vaccines and boosters are available to reduce the risk of serious illness.

The changes shift much of the responsibility for risk reduction from institutions to individuals. The CDC no longer recommends that people stay 6 feet apart from others. Instead, he notes that avoiding crowded areas and keeping your distance from others are strategies people may want to consider to reduce their risk.

And recommended prevention strategies no longer distinguish between people who are up-to-date on their vaccines and those who are not, streamlining a complicated set of rules that could be difficult for schools and businesses to navigate.

The CDC has updated its COVID guidance to loosen some of its health recommendations. @DrLaPook has the details on the new guidelines. pic.twitter.com/L5b1vMCHEK

— CBS Evening News (@CBSEeveningNews) August 11, 2022

People who are exposed to the virus no longer have to self-quarantine at home regardless of their vaccination status, although they should wear a mask for 10 days and get tested for the virus on day 5, according to the new guidelines Contact tracing and routine surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals is no longer recommended in most settings.

Instead of focusing on slowing the transmission of the virus, the recommendations prioritize the prevention of serious illness. They emphasize the importance of vaccination and other preventive measures, including antiviral treatments and ventilation.

Masking guidelines, which recommend that people wear them indoors in places where community levels of Covid-19 are high, have not changed.

And people who test positive for the virus should still self-isolate at home for at least five days. Those who had moderate or severe illness, or are immunocompromised, should self-isolate until day 10.

The agency also addressed rebound infections that some people reported after taking the antiviral treatment Paxlovid; if symptoms return, people should reset the clock in isolation, the CDC said.

Many health experts praised the new guidelines as representing a pragmatic approach to living with the virus in the long term.

“I think it’s a welcome change,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It really shows how far we’ve come.”

The new guidelines will also be easier for the public to follow, he added.

But the pandemic is not over, experts noted, and stricter measures may be necessary in case of new variants or future increases.

Although almost all Americans are now eligible for vaccination, many are not up to date on their vaccines. Only 30% of 5- to 11-year-olds and 60% of 12- to 17-year-olds have received their series of primary vaccines nationwide. Among adults age 65 and older, who have a higher risk of serious disease, 65% received a booster. Critical therapeutics, such as antiviral treatments, remain difficult to access for many.

“Obviously, we need to do more to make sure that more people take advantage of the protection that these tools offer and that more people can access these tools,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center at Brown University School. of Public Health. “I think there’s been a general change in the ground game that’s needed to vaccinate people.”

The guidance moves away from general population-level precautions to more specific advice for vulnerable populations and specific high-risk environments and circumstances.

For example, the guidelines note that schools may want to consider surveillance testing in certain scenarios, such as when students return from school holidays or those participating in contact sports.

Unvaccinated students who are exposed to the virus will no longer be required to undergo frequent testing to remain in the classroom, an approach known as “testing to stay.” The CDC no longer recommends a practice known as cohorting, in which schools divide students into smaller groups and limit contact with each other to reduce the risk of viral transmission.

Health experts said the change in focus was especially welcome as students return to school, an environment in which quarantines had been particularly disruptive.

“This will really help minimize the impact of Covid-19 on education,” said Christina Ramirez, a biostatistician at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Mercedes Carnethon, an epidemiologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said she did not consider the changes, or even the elimination of quarantines in favor of 10 days of masking, to be a loosening of the agency’s guidance.

“We certainly know that wearing a high-quality mask will provide one of the strongest protections against spreading it to someone else, and quarantine is a logistical burden,” he said. “This could be seen as a relaxation of the guidelines, but I think it’s a much more appropriate and specific solution.”

Joseph Allen, a Harvard University researcher who studies indoor environmental quality, praised the new guidelines for placing more emphasis on improving ventilation.

“Good ventilation is something that helps reduce the risk of transmission that is not political and does not require any behavioral change,” he said.

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