COVID experts agree 'most people are no longer really at risk for getting severe disease'

The CDC's new guidelines are an acknowledgement that we’ve entered a new stage with COVID-19.  

"Basically where we are right now with the amount of immunity that we have in our population, both from vaccination and from multiple natural infections, most people are no longer really at risk for getting severe disease and ending up in the ICU or dying," said University of South Florida College of Public Health professor Dr. Thomas Unnasch. 

That's good news for everyone, and the reason why the agency has relaxed rules on exposures. The new guidelines recommend 10 days of masking in place of quarantine after exposure to the virus. 

For confirmed coronavirus cases, however, the rules haven't changed significantly, but the agency has issued key clarifications. 

According to the CDC's website, those who test positive for COVID-19 should stay home for at least five days and isolate from others in the home.

CDC: About 95% of Americans over 16 have some level of COVID immunity

If you are fever-free for 24 hours and symptoms are improving after five days, isolation is no long necessary, but you should wear a high-quality mask for five days when around others. Regardless of when you end isolation, the CDC advises to avoid being around people who are more likely to get sick from COVID-19 until at least day 11.

For more severe Covid-19 infections, however, the CDC recommends longer periods of isolation: 

  • If you had moderate illness (if you experienced shortness of breath or had difficulty breathing) or severe illness (you were hospitalized) due to COVID-19 or you have a weakened immune system, you need to isolate through day 10.
  • If you had  severe illness or have a weakened immune system, consult your doctor before ending isolation. Ending isolation without a viral test may not be an option for you. If you are unsure if your symptoms are moderate or severe or if you have a weakened immune system, talk to a healthcare provider for further guidance.

The CDC also issued clarification on their isolation timeline to clear up misconceptions on when the clock should start. The first day of the five-day isolation period should begin 24-hours AFTER symptoms first appear or a you test positive. 

"So if you test positive, let's say on a Sunday night at 8 p.m., Sunday is not day one. It's after the first day has elapsed, so Monday by 8 p.m. means day one is behind you," explained Unnasch. 

According to the CDC, coronavirus is most infectious during the first five days after detection and most people should no longer be able to transmit the virus to others after ten days.

"Ninety-percent of the people after ten days are no longer infectious. But there's still some people whose infection drags out for a long period of time. So it means that the guidelines are kind of nuanced," said Unnasch. 

While every case is different, the agency does not recommend using testing as a way to either shorten the isolation period or to determine whether you're no longer infectious to others and can therefore go back to say, work or school. 

"The tests are really good at saying that you are infected, they aren't really that great saying you're no longer infected. There's a lot of flotsam and jetsam that can be around that'll give you a false positive test even if you don't have active virus that you're secreting anymore. So they've eliminated that requirement," said Dr. Unnasch. 

Should symptoms rebound, as recently seen with President Biden, the CDC says the clock on isolation should start all over again.

"If your COVID-19 symptoms worsen, restart your isolation at day 0. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have questions about your symptoms or when to end isolation."

For the full updated CDC guidelines, visit the CDC's website