CDC looks to shorten quarantine guidelines, scientists say move makes sense

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MADISON (WKOW) — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the agency is likely to shorten its recommendation for how long people exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine.

Currently, people are supposed to quarantine for 14 days after exposure, but the new recommendation will likely be for a seven to 10 day quarantine paired with a negative COVID-19 test.

Dr. Ajay Sethi, an infectious diseases expert at UW-Madison, said the change is logical.

“The CDC is optimizing the length of quarantine so that it matches the science a little bit better,” he said.

Sethi said data shows 99 percent of people who are exposed to the virus and will develop symptoms do so within 14 days. That’s how scientists came up with the original quarantine period.

“It’s conservative,” Sethi said. “It’s being cautious.”

But 50 percent of people who will develop symptoms do so within five days, and 97.5 percent of people do so within 11.5 days of being exposed.

Sethi says this data shows shorter quarantines could be just as effective as long as they’re paired with a negative test.

“If you test negative after seven to 10 days of that high-risk exposure, it’s just a very low probability that you would then test positive if the tests were repeated,” Sethi said.

He said he believes the shorter quarantine period will be easier for people to comply with, and that could lead to even less spread of the virus.

“If you shorten it to seven to 10 days, it would be a lot more appealing to people, and if that gets more people to attempt quarantine, then … it’s more effective for controlling the virus in the population,” Sethi said.

Sethi said the change to guidelines isn’t unexpected because the CDC has revised its recommendations several times throughout the pandemic as scientists have learned more about the virus.

He cautioned that though shorter quarantines are good news, they’re not a signal that we can let up on following other pandemic precautions.

The shortened timeline wouldn’t apply if someone tests positive for COVID-19 after quarantining for several days.

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