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CDC shortens isolation period for people with Covid

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Americans with Covid or other respiratory infections do not need to isolate for five days before returning to work or school, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday, a stark sign of a change in attitude towards the coronavirus.

People with respiratory illnesses can return to daily activities if they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the aid of medication and their symptoms improve, agency officials said.

Recognizing that people can be contagious even without symptoms, the CDC urged those ending isolation to limit close contact with others, wear well-fitted masks, improve indoor air quality, and practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes, for five years. days.

The guidelines apply to COVID, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, among other respiratory illnesses, which should make it easier for people to comply, CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen told reporters Friday.

“Our goal here is to continue to protect people at risk of serious illness, while reassuring people that these recommendations are simple, clear, easy to understand and can be followed,” she said.

Dr. Cohen noted the sharp decline in the number of Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths this winter compared to those in previous years, and said a large majority of hospitalizations occurred among Americans who had not received the last injections.

Vaccination also reduces the risk of long Covid, she added.

The CDC last changed its policy of isolating people with Covid during the Omicron wave two years ago, when record infections paralyzed the country. The isolation period was reduced from ten to five days.

The agency unifies recommendations for respiratory illnesses because symptoms are often difficult to distinguish, viruses spread in much the same way and they can be avoided with similar strategies, said Dr. Brendan Jackson, who directs the agency’s response to respiratory viruses. team.

Some outside experts applauded the change. “I think it makes a lot of sense because people aren’t getting tested,” said Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center and public health editor at KFF Health News.

“If you don’t know what virus you have, how are you supposed to follow the right advice for Covid vs. flu vs. RSV vs. cold virus? she says.

Even as the agency considered the change, some experts expressed dismay because it could lead the public to think Covid was no longer a threat. They also fear that without a recommendation to isolate for five days, employers could pressure employees to return to work before they recover.

Little has been done to improve indoor air quality in most places, and wearing masks can be socially uncomfortable for many people, Dr. Gounder said.

“This again places a heavy burden on the individual to do the right thing when it comes to public health,” she said. Making masks affordable and providing them in public spaces and workplaces would help people follow the new guidelines, she added.

Raynard Washington, health director for Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, said it was important for officials to continue to emphasize that Covid still posed serious risks for many people.

Nonetheless, “having streamlined and consolidated guidance across the entire respiratory virus portfolio will allow us to be able to do public health on the ground at the state and federal levels, and send a very clear message to the people,” he said.

The recommendations are intended for the general public and do not apply to healthcare facilities or retirement homes.

Dr. Washington urged Americans to always consider that there may be people around them who are at high risk of coronavirus infection.

“It’s not like people are carrying a sign that says, ‘I’m immunocompromised,’” he said.

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