According to the Washington Post, the agency is considering dropping its current five-day isolation guidelines to be replaced with a 24-hour period, after which people with mild or improving symptoms would no longer need to stay home.
The proposed rule change discussed internally and on a call with state health officials last week would treat COVID-19 more like other common respiratory illnesses like the flu and RSV.
Yet COVID-19 remains much deadlier than those viruses, especially among at-risk populations. Despite advances in medical science, COVID-19 still hospitalizes people over the age of 65 ten times more often than influenza and is three to four times more likely to be fatal.
And long COVID, in which a debilitating set of symptoms persists even after the infection has cleared, remains a growing concern.
The CDC data shows more than 20,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19, and 774 people died from it the week of Feb. 3, 2024, the most current data available. That’s a decrease compared to last winter, although COVID-19 cases are actually higher than they were last year.
Should the new CDC guidance be approved, it would align with relaxed state-level rules elsewhere. California and Oregon no longer ask people who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate for a fixed amount of time; instead, they recommend people stay home until their symptoms improve and 24 hours have passed since they had a fever.
In a news release announcing the change, California State Public Health Director Dr. Tomás Aragón said the new standards reflect the new reality of COVID-19.
“We are now at a different point in time with reduced impacts from COVID-19 compared to prior years due to broad immunity from vaccination and/or natural infection, and readily available treatments available for infected people,” Aragón said.
“Our policies and priorities for intervention are now focused on protecting those most at risk for serious illness, while reducing social disruption that is disproportionate to recommendations for prevention of other endemic respiratory viral infections.”
The current five-day waiting period has been in place since December 2021, when the Omicron variant began to spread in the U.S., ultimately supplanting Delta, its less transmissible sibling.