In recent days, the CDC modified its quarantine guidelines such that infected individuals do not necessarily need to follow them. They still officially recommend fourteen days for Covid-19 isolation before returning to society, but quarantines may be reduced to only seven or ten days at the infected individual’s preference in certain cases. This change is a confusing approach to quarantine policy as the pandemic grows worse. Rather than affirmatively changing quarantine guidance, the CDC left quarantine decisions to the isolated individual’s preference, which will lead to unnecessary transmission and a longer pandemic.
Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are peaking in the United States. Now would be the time to bolster public health standards to counter these trends, but instead, the CDC insists on softening measures meant to keep us safe. While the official CDC recommendation is fourteen days, the guidelines now state that quarantine can end after ten days if no symptoms exhibit throughout. Additionally, quarantine can end after day seven if the patient showed no symptoms and tested negative. Allowing individual discretion enables people to exit quarantine while still contagious.
The CDC admits as much. The recommendation mentions that reducing quarantine lengths to seven to ten days comes with a 1-12% chance of post-quarantine transmission. Let’s do the math. On December 2nd, the United States reported about 200,000 positive cases. Assuming they all went into quarantine and stayed isolated for seven or ten days, 2,000 to 24,000 of those cases would go on to infect others. How is this acceptable? Why risk it?
The shift seems based on CDC research that post-quarantine transmission risk drops after day five. Though, at their admittance, the transmission risk still exists. The risk of up to a 12% chance seems more than unnecessary. If a fourteen-day quarantine could cut that risk even only by 50%, that would equate to stopping potentially 12,000 cases from transmitting to others from the December 2nd group. It just does not seem worth the risk to shorten quarantines by a week or less.
As we move in the direction of less caution, the Chinese government recently recommended the opposite. Studies have shown that around 5% of Covid-19 cases have incubation periods longer than fourteen days, and China is taking action accordingly by extending quarantines to 21 days. China has been at the forefront of Covid-19 public health policy throughout the pandemic. The country of nearly 1.4 billion people has had only 93,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases. Daily case reports have not surpassed 100 since mid-summer.
China is not the only country to stray from the fourteen-day quarantine. European countries like France and Belgium reduced their quarantine lengths to seven and ten days, respectively. Both countries experienced an explosion of Covid-19 cases in recent months after handling the start of the pandemic rather well. France reached a daily average of nearly 50,000 cases per day in early November, requiring a new lockdown to bring spread under control. Belgium experienced a similar trajectory of increased cases in the fall. Reduced quarantine limits may have contributed to the virus’s aggressive spread, which does not bode well for Americans who intend to follow the CDC’s seven to ten day options.
Ultimately, a reduction of quarantine length will only extend the pandemic in the United States. People need to stay home if they are infected, whether symptomatic or not. There should not be a rush to get back into the world, especially if there is a chance to spread the virus to others. The CDC may suggest shorter quarantines are acceptable, but please err on the side of caution. Keep those you regularly see and care about safe. Stay home.