CDC considers another change to COVID isolation guidelines

The U.S. could see yet another shift on COVID isolation recommendations in the coming days.

The Centers for Disease Control announced shorter isolation times just last week, but is now signaling it may adjust the rules again.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said he plans on clarifying CDC guidelines for isolation and testing after a positive COVID test. The move comes after the federal agency shortened the recommended quarantine time from 10 days to five for asymptomatic patients, triggering some pushback.

Health officials said they will be revisiting how long people who test positive for the virus should quarantine and whether a negative test should be required to get back to daily life.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, professor of infectious disease at UCSF, said part of the reason the CDC made the move to shorten quarantine times last week is that the amount of virus patients shed drops significantly after five days.

"The CDC's original thinking was that if you're wearing a mask and you're out and about, that risk for the vast majority of people will be zero and for a small number of people there will be a little virus, but it'll be trapped by the mask," said Chin-Hong.

The city of San Francisco shifted its guidelines, following the federal government, and shortened the recommended isolation time after a positive test as well.

Chin-Hong said the CDC is walking a proverbial tightrope trying to prevent the spread of the contagious omicron variant, and at the same time allowing the country to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

"It's not just the economy," he said. "It's education, it's health care, because we're all getting sick now, and the more we can cut that time down safely, it's better for all of us in all spheres of our lives."

Fauci indicated that the CDC may change its guidelines so that people can exit isolation after five days. But only with a negative COVID test on that fifth day.

Though the problem is finding an available COVID test appointment or even locating an at-home test can be close to impossible.

"I think if you can't get ahold of a test, you know, the safest thing to do is to isolate for 10 days," said Chin-Hong.

The current guidelines also cover what to do if someone comes in close contact with some infected with the virus, but has not tested positive.

Those who are fully vaccinated and boosted people don't need to quarantine but should wear a mask for 10 days.

Those unvaccinated should quarantine for five days and take a test on that fifth day to see if they were infected.