The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is easing its COVID-19 guidance around testing and quarantine, a move considered dubious by some medical experts and praised as a realistic response by others.
The CDC announced the update on Thursday to reflect the availability of medical interventions that have diminished the risk of hospitalization, severe illness or death posed by the virus. The new guidelines have reopened a familiar debate between those ready to live with the virus and others calling for a more stringent response.
Greta Massetti, the CDC’s branch chief of Field Epidemiology and Prevention, said in a statement that the U.S. is in “a stronger place today as a nation” with vaccines, boosters and treatments to prevent acute cases of COVID-19.
“We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation,” she said in the statement. “This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives.”
Among the notable changes, the CDC recommends those exposed to COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day five instead of quarantining.
Those who test positive for COVID-19 should stay home for at least five days, a period the CDC says people are most infectious, the updated guidelines state. The CDC recommends those who test positive “wear a high-quality mask when you must be around others at home and in public.”
“I’m sure there will be protest about this, but these revised guidelines seem to track with how people are actually living in the face of a virus that 1) is not disappearing and 2) seems to be finding even the most cautious among us,” Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, professor of epidemiology at Brown University School of Public Health, said in a tweet reacting to the news.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said in a tweet that “these new measures reflect the fact that the tools we now possess have changed the risk significantly.”
CDC figures show the rate of death and hospitalization caused by COVID-19 are significantly lower than at the height of the pandemic. State and local governments have largely unwound masking, social distancing and other restrictions from a pandemic-weary public.
But other medical experts questioned the basis for the guidelines, saying they put vulnerable members of the public at risk.
Dr. Saskia Popescu took issue with the CDC removing the quarantine recommendation for those who have been exposed, particularly those unvaccinated. She also questioned the feasibility of people wearing masks in small offices where they will have to take them off for eating and drinking.
Additionally, Popescu said discouraging routine testing ignores the “high levels of asymptomatic cases.”
“We should be providing people the resources to stay home if they’re exposed, especially if unvaccinated and [without] vaccine-induced protection, not doing away with the quarantine guidance [altogether],” Popescu said.
Dr. Judy Stone called the CDC’s guidelines “capitulation” in a tweet.
“What would be welcome to me and many others would be masking until rates are down and a focus on improving ventilation,” she said. “Immunocompromised/elderly people have been devalued and discarded.”