CDC director explains reasoning for shortening COVID-19 isolation window

Rochelle Walensky
Posted at 8:02 AM, Dec 29, 2021

WASHINGTON — U.S. health officials' decision to shorten the recommended COVID-19 isolation and quarantine is drawing criticism from some medical experts and could create confusion among many Americans.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that people with COVID-19 can leave isolation after five days, down from 10 days. People exposed to the virus can also leave quarantine after five days.

CDC officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that the coronavirus is most infectious two days before and three days after symptom onset.

The guidance also says Americans can end isolation after five days without a negative result from a rapid test. It adds those infected should take a test "if possible" after five days.

The move has raised questions about how the guidance was crafted and why it was changed now, in the middle of another wintertime spike in cases, this one driven largely by the highly contagious omicron variant.

During an appearance on CNN Wednesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walesnky denied the agency's decision not to recommend a negative rapid test as a condition for ending isolation had anything to do with a test shortage in the U.S.

"The decision, really from the isolation standpoint, had everything to do with the fact that we wouldn't change our guidance based on the result of that rapid test. And you know, that it didn't have anything to do with the in any shortage at all, because we recommend rapid tests for those in quarantine," Walensky told CNN.

Walensky also said that officials considered Americans' tolerance for quarantine in setting the new guidelines.

"We have seen relatively low rates of isolation for all of this pandemic," Walensky said. "Some science has demonstrated less than a third of people are isolating when they need to. And so we really want to make sure that we had guidance, in this moment where we were going to have a lot of disease, that could be adhered to, that people were willing to adhere to, and that spoke specifically to when people were maximally infectious."

The White House COVID-19 response team will likely offer more clarification on the new policy during an 11 a.m. ET virtual press conference Wednesday.