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COVID-19 isolation guidelines may change soon
February 19, 2024
Young girl sitting on sofa at home with grandma

    A VCU Health infectious disease expert shares what we know about the potential changes to COVID-19 isolation guidelines and how to prevent spread of the virus

    In the coming months, federal health guidelines for how long you’re recommended to stay isolated and away from others after contracting COVID-19 may change.

    A story from the Washington Post reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addressed an upcoming change to isolation guidelines with state health officials during a recent briefing.

    The new approach suggests people could return to work or school if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the assistance of medicine and their COVID-19 symptoms are mild and improving. Currently, the CDC guidelines call for people who test positive for COVID-19 to stay at home and away from others for five days. If someone doesn’t have symptoms after five days, they can stop isolating themselves.

    “I think a lot of it has to do with trying to be practical, trying to come up with solutions that small businesses and other entities can follow,” said Dr. Barry Rittmann, co-medical director of the Virginia Infection Prevention Training Center and VCU Health infectious disease expert. “Certain professions may have different guidelines as well. So, we still need to see how [the CDC] handles guidelines for health care workers and other people who are in higher risk professions.”

    Along with these new guidelines, there are still many things to consider to keep your family and others safe.

    “The CDC provides recommendations based on close monitoring of illnesses, which may evolve over time. With the current or amended isolation guidelines, we continue to encourage families to do their part in preventing the spread of germs and illnesses,” said Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough, pediatrician. “This includes staying up to date on vaccines; continuing other essential infection prevention measures, including washing hands thoroughly and frequently; and keeping kids home from school (and everyone away from public places) when they have illnesses that can spread, which are signaled in part by fever of 100.4 or higher, vomiting/diarrhea and persistent cough or coughing fits.”

    Dr. Rittmann shared insights with VCU Health News on the new proposed guidelines and other preventative measures

    What do we know so far about the proposed changes to the CDC isolation guidelines?

    The proposed guidelines have not been formally released to the public, so we don’t have the exact wording of the changes to isolation periods. These changes have been debated for some time, and appear to be more focused on practicality than anything else.

    According to the news reports we’ve seen, the guidelines appear to only apply to the general public and not health care workers or medically vulnerable populations. It’s also not clear if the guidance will include updates on masking.

    The proposed changes come after COVID-19 case numbers started to dip down following a surge around the winter holidays. Nothing has changed in the scientific understanding we have of the virus. It’s still highly contagious but we now have more methods to prevent severe illness and wide-reaching community spread.

    What should I do if I need to isolate at home?

    If you need to go into isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, stay home and do your best to stay away from others. Here are some other things to consider to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your home:

    • Try to improve the ventilation at your home by opening windows, increasing air filtration and turning on fans to increase airflow.
    • Wear a high-quality mask if you need to be around others at home and in public.
    • If you can, try to use a separate bathroom from other people in your household.
    • Don’t share personal household items, such as cups, towels and utensils.

    If I test positive for COVID-19, how can I prevent myself from spreading it to others?

    Even if you might be feeling better after an initial infection, you might still be spreading COVID-19. If you’re still getting over the illness, wearing a mask can help prevent other people from getting sick.

    Some other preventative measures that weren't available at the beginning of the pandemic really should be utilized as much as possible. That includes getting vaccinated, which can prevent you from getting severely sick and needing to go to the hospital.

    My personal belief – not just for COVID-19 – is if you feel sick, you shouldn’t go to work or school. If you’re sick, you’re potentially contagious.

    What can I do to best protect myself from contracting COVID-19?

    As mentioned before, staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations helps to prevent you from getting severely sick and potentially needing to go to the hospital.

    There are other lessons we learned from the pandemic that are beneficial to follow during the winter months, also known as respiratory illness season, including thorough hand washing, covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, wearing a facemask and staying home when you feel sick.

    By Sara McCloskey

    This story was originally published on the VCU Health News Center.

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