CDC relaxes COVID-19 restrictions on isolation and quarantine

by Jacob Fuller

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated recommendations for COVID-19 guidance, significantly relaxing guidelines for the general community. The updated guidelines will also help prevent children from unnecessarily missing time in the classroom, as data has shown that aggressive mitigation efforts have fueled ‘learning poverty.

The biggest revelation from the revised guidelines is that the organization says it is no longer recommending quarantines for those who are not vaccinated and have been exposed to the virus. This will particularly be helpful as schools around the country are opening since thousands of children across the country have had their education disrupted over the past two years due to mandated quarantines.

According to a poll published in March, students missed an average of 15 school days in the first half of last school year due to quarantine protocols. According to recent data, only 30% of school-aged children are currently vaccinated, meaning the previous recommendation of unvaccinated individuals being forced to quarantine if exposed would have likely resulted in similar results.  

The agency issued the update in an effort to “streamline” the information “to help people better understand their risk, how to protect themselves and others, what actions to take if exposed to COVID-19, and what actions to take if they are sick or test positive for the virus.”

Dr. Greta Massetti, a senior epidemiologist in the Division of Violence Prevention of the CDC, said “We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools—like vaccination, boosters, and treatments—to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19.”

“We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation. This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives,” she said.

The updates, which are now more focused on individual choice, include changes to social distancing, isolation, quarantine, masking, and testing that the agency claimed were essential to mitigating further transmission of the virus over the last 2 1/2 years.

With the new announcement, the CDC has flip-flopped again on numerous guidelines that have disrupted tens of millions of lives since early 2020. It now suggests that those exposed to the virus do not need to quarantine, there is no longer separate guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, students may stay in class after exposure, and it is no longer recommended that people without symptoms get tested.

The equal guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals comes more than a year after research showed vaccinated individuals who contract the virus “can spread the virus just as much as an unvaccinated person,” after tens of thousands of federal government employees nationwide and 34,000 healthcare workers in New York alone lost their jobs over COVID vaccine mandates, and thousands of military servicemen and women have lost their jobs and thousands more continue to fight for their careers over the vaccine mandate.

The CDC maintains that vaccination is the best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death, although it acknowledges that the protection from current vaccines “diminishes over time, especially against the currently circulating variants.” To date, almost 80% of Americans have received at least one dose of one of the available vaccines.

Despite CDC guidance, many Americans have been living normally for some time. According to the July 2022 national survey data from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, many are aware of the “continuing risks of COVID-19,” but are less worried about health effects, wear masks less, and are living as they were pre-COVID-19. The survey found that the percentage of Americans living as they were pre-COVID-19 has more than doubled since January.

The survey, which included 1,580 adults, found that 41% of Americans’ lifestyles had returned to normal, this is up from 16% in January of 2022. When asked about wearing masks, 54% reported “rarely or never wear a mask indoors when with people from outside their household.”

While it seems that much of the country has moved on from the pandemic, many top health officials aren’t ready to declare the pandemic over. The CDC says it will continue working to update guidance for the community as well as healthcare settings, congregate settings at higher risk of transmission, and travel.

Additional reporting by Jacob Fuller, FISM News.