Federal health officials are working on guidance to shorten the recommended 14-day quarantine period following a potential exposure to COVID-19, the top U.S. virus-testing official said.
Officials are beginning to see a preponderance of evidence that people could spend less time in quarantine if they also test negative for COVID-19, said Admiral Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services,
“We are actively working on that type of guidance right now, reviewing the evidence, but we want to make absolutely sure,” Giroir said on a Tuesday call with reporters.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends people stay home for 14 days after close contact with someone who has COVID-19. That advice stands even when people feel healthy or test negative for the virus, the agency’s website says, because symptoms may develop anywhere from 2 to 14 days after exposure.
The coronavirus’s power to spread even when people show no symptoms has made it difficult for many countries to contain. A combination of lockdowns and widespread testing, contact tracing and quarantine policies allowed some countries including China to curb the pathogen’s spread.
The U.S. is recording more new coronavirus cases and hospital admissions than ever before. Gatherings for Thanksgiving and other holidays are expected to increase the spread, and health officials say people fatigued by months of restrictions are ignoring safety guidelines.
Throughout the pandemic, official guidance suggested 14 days of quarantine to avoid spreading the virus.
People with mild or moderate cases of COVID-19 are thought to be no longer infectious 10 days after symptoms develop. Patients who show no symptoms can still spread the virus, and are typically infectious for a median of 9.5 days.
Some research suggests a shorter quarantine window, combined with testing, could be almost as effective. For example, a study released in July before peer review by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found quarantining travelers for eight days and testing them for the virus on day 7 could be almost as effective as a 14-day quarantine.
Demand for testing has surged ahead of Thanksgiving. But as confirmed virus cases reach record levels, Giroir said he expects screening to return to baseline levels after the holiday.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Tuesday that the CDC is finalizing recommendations for a new quarantine period of seven and 10 days, and which would include a negative test.
A spokeswoman for the CDC said the agency is continually reviewing guidelines as new evidence emerges and “will announce such changes when appropriate.”
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