CDC Relaxes COVID-19 Quarantine Guidelines

Author: Emily Scace, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 16, 2022

Recognizing the long-term nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed its guidance surrounding isolation and quarantine following exposure to the coronavirus. The relaxed guidelines may prompt employers to modify their policies for workers who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Previously, the CDC had recommended a five-day period of quarantine for individuals who had been in close contact with a person with COVID-19 and were not up to date on vaccines. The new guidance dispenses with that recommendation, allowing people, regardless of vaccination status, to continue their daily routines - including work - unless they develop symptoms. Individuals should monitor themselves for symptoms following an exposure and take extra precautions around people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

However, the guidance retains masking recommendations. The CDC recommends that individuals exposed to COVID-19 wear a high-quality mask or respirator for 10 days any time they are around other people indoors and avoid places where mask wearing is not possible. The guidance also continues to recommend use of well-fitting masks indoors wherever COVID-19 community transmission levels are high.

At least five full days after an exposure, the CDC recommends getting tested for COVID-19, even for individuals without symptoms. An individual who tests negative should continue masking through the tenth day following the exposure, while an individual who tests positive should isolate immediately and stay home for at least five days, depending on symptoms.

Following a positive test, a person may end isolation after day five if they had no symptoms. A person who developed symptoms of COVID-19 may end isolation after day five if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications and other symptoms are improving. However, anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 should avoid being around people at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 until at least day 11.

The new guidelines also allow people with COVID-19 to stop masking before 10 days have elapsed since onset - the previous recommendation - if they test negative on two rapid antigen tests, taken at least 48 hours apart.

If COVID-19 symptoms return or worsen after a person ends isolation, they should restart isolation, according to the CDC.

The guidance also modifies social distancing recommendations, no longer specifying a six-foot distance from others but instead urging people to avoid crowded areas and take other measures, such as improving ventilation, as part of an overall risk reduction strategy.