Why the CDC will probably recommend shorter quarantine periods for COVID

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is now widely expected to revise its recommendations for COVID-related quarantine. The twist is that it’s actually good news from the public’s perspective, with the possibility that recommendations could come down to anywhere between seven and 10 days for a self-imposed quarantine rather than two full weeks.

Currently, requirements are fairly stringent, with the CDC recommending a 14-day quarantine for anyone exposed to a person with coronavirus even the exposed individual tests negative themselves. That may be prudent but it’s also a logistical mess. It isn’t exactly easy or enforceable to keep people confined by themselves during the holiday season.

So why would the CDC change its cautious stance right now, especially given the surge in the COVID pandemic and upcoming holiday weekend? Officials such as CDC director Robert Redfield and one of the agency’s COVID-19 response leaders, Henry Walke, along with other public health officials, boil it down to a simple reality: Human behavior and a shifting understanding of the pandemic.

“We do think that the work that we’ve done, and some of the studies we have and the modeling data that we have, shows that we can with testing shorten quarantines,” Walke said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

COVID testing turnaround times play a huge role in this. It’s no secret that it took days, or even weeks, to get a coronavirus test result back just a few months ago. It can still be complicated, but capacity has appeared to improve with the introduction and distribution of more testing products. And then there’s the reality that it’s just hard to expect people to shut themselves off for two whole weeks.

That plays into the CDC’s considerations over quarantine and self-isolation. In a press call with reporters, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official Admiral Brett Giroir stated that there’s “been a a preponderance of evidence that a shorter quarantine complemented by a test might be able to shorten that quarantine period from 14 days.”

This is specifically aimed at those who may have been exposed to coronavirus. It’s not official yet, and it certainly doesn’t mean people shouldn’t continue to take prudent public safety measures such as wearing masks and social distancing. But just maybe we can shave off a few days from Americans’ quarantine time and improve public health in the process.

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