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The CDC Just Changed This Major COVID Rule For Everyone

The recommendation was 14 days; now it's 7 to 10, depending on testing.
Woman wearing a face mask

The CDC announced today it is changing its guidance on how long someone should quarantine after being exposed to a person infected with COVID-19, reducing that recommended quarantine period from 14 days to seven to 10 days. Americans will be advised to quarantine for seven to 10 days after having close contact with someone who has the coronavirus—seven days after a negative COVID-19 test, or 10 days after no test. 

"After reviewing and analyzing new research and modeling data, CDC has identified two acceptable alternative quarantine periods," said Dr. Henry Walke, incident manager of the CDC's COVID-19 response, during a media call on Wednesday morning. "Under these options, quarantine can end after 10 days without a COVID-19 test, if the  person has reported no symptoms, or after seven days with a negative test result, if the person has reported no symptoms."

"Everyone should follow this specific guidance from their local public health authorities about how long they should quarantine," added Walke, noting that people should still watch for symptoms for four 14 days after exposure, especially if quarantine is discontinued early. Read on for more warnings, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Holiday travel recommendations

"A shorter quarantine period can lessen stress on the public health system and communities, especially when new infections are rapidly rising with the upcoming winter holidays," said Walke. "It is important for people to keep themselves and their families as safe as possible. The best way to protect yourself and others is to postpone travel and stay home."

If you do decide to travel over the holidays, this is the latest CDC guidance:

  • Travelers should get tested one to three days before they leave, then again three to five days after reaching their destination. That should be combined with reducing non-essential activities for seven days.
  • If travelers don't get tested after traveling, the CDC recommends reducing non-essential activities for 10 days. "If at any point during or after traveling, you experience symptoms of COVID-19, please follow CDC and local guidance about what to do," said Walke.

"We continue to encourage all Americans to wear a mask, maintain social distance, stay six feet apart from people who don't live with you, avoiding crowds and indoor spaces and washing your hands often," said Walke. "Even as vaccines become available, taking these protective actions is critical until COVID-19 vaccination becomes widely adopted."

The agency says its decision is data-based. "The recommendation that's being made today was based on extensive modeling, not just by CDC, but by other agencies and partners outside of CDC, including academic centers and public health," said Dr. John Brooks, the chief medical officer for the CDC's COVID-19 response.

Those models indicate that when quarantine is reduced to 10 days, the risk of infecting another person is about 1%, with an upper limit of 12%, said Brooks. With a seven-day quarantine and a negative COVID test, the risk of infection is 5% to 10%.

Health officials are concerned that the holiday season may cause a surge in COVID-19 cases that health systems can't handle.  In the past week, several states including California and Texas have set records for new cases and hospitalizations. Nationwide, the number of daily deaths is approaching the peak set last April.

The CDC is making the change in guidelines now because officials believe it will improve compliance. "We're in a situation where cases are rising. That means that the number of contacts are rising, and the number of people who require quarantine are rising," said Brooks. "That's a lot of burden, not just on the people who have to quarantine, but also on public health."

He added: "We believe that if we can reduce the burden a little bit, accepting it comes at a small cost, we may get greater compliance overall, with people completing a full quarantine of seven days. If we get more people on board to complete that overall, that will result in fewer infections."

RELATED: COVID Symptoms Usually Appear in This Order, Study Finds

How to stay alive during the pandemic

As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.