How Long Do You Have to Quarantine After COVID Exposure? New Guidelines Explained

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday shortened isolation and quarantine guidelines from 10 days to 5 days for most people who have been exposed to COVID-19 or tested positive for the virus.

The new guidance aligns with evidence that people infected with COVID are most contagious in the one to two days before, and three days after, they first develop symptoms, according to the agency.

The decision also comes as the rapidly spreading Omicron variant has driven a new wave of infections across the U.S., resulting in significant labor shortages and an increased demand for testing.

"The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society. CDC's updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walenksy said in a statement on Monday.

Here's a breakdown of the new guidelines:

CDC Isolation/Quarantine Guidelines
The CDC on Monday moved to shorten isolation and quarantine times for those who have been exposed or tested positive for COVID-19. Here, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater December 08, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

What To Do If You Tested Positive For COVID-19

The CDC now recommends that those who tested positive for the coronavirus but are not showing any symptoms should isolate for just 5 days—down from the previously recommended 10 days—followed by 5 additional days of wearing a mask when around others.

"Isolation relates to behavior after a confirmed infection. Isolation for 5 days followed by wearing a well-fitting mask will minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others," the agency said on Monday.

The CDC did not announce shortened recommendations for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are showing symptoms of the virus. It previously said that symptomatic individuals should isolate away from others for a full 10 days.

What To Do If You've Been Exposed To COVID-19

Similar to the new isolation guidelines, the CDC is now recommending that unvaccinated people, as well as those who were fully vaccinated more than six months ago (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine), and have not yet received a booster shot, should quarantine for 5 days if they are knowingly exposed to the virus. After that 5 day period, those individuals are also recommended to wear a mask around others for 5 more days.

If unable to quarantine for those 5 days, the agency recommends that an exposed individual should "wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure."

Meanwhile, those who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot are not recommended to quarantine even if they have been exposed to the virus. However, the CDC said those people should still wear a mask for 10 days after coming into contact with an infected person.

"For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for SARS-CoV-2 at day 5 after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19," the agency added.

The CDC also said Monday that data from South Africa and the United Kingdom suggests that two doses of the vaccine are just 35 percent effective at preventing infection from Omicron, but a booster shot increases that effectiveness to 75 percent.

The agency maintains that getting vaccinated and boosted is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus.

"These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives," Walenksy added on Monday. "Prevention is our best option: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission, and take a test before you gather."