Rollins Expert Weighs in on Updated COVID-19 Isolation Guidance

March 1, 2024
woman looking out a woman wearing a mask during COVID


By Shelby Crosier 

On March 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released updated guidance for people who have tested positive for COVID-19, stating that an individual can return to their normal activities if their symptoms are improving, and they have been fever-free for 24 hours. Previously, the recommended isolation period was five days.

The CDC outlined their reasoning behind this change, including wide availability of vaccines and treatments, decreasing hospitalizations and deaths, and high levels of immunity in the population.

“We know that most people in the United States at this point have some level of immunity either from vaccination or COVID infection,” says Jodie Guest, PhD, professor and senior vice chair of the Department of Epidemiology, “and the guidelines are responsive to this.”

Your symptoms waning and your fever going away are certainly signs that your viral load is going down and that you're less likely to be infectious to other people, and that’s one of the reasons to change guidelines like this,” says Guest. “But we also know that people can be infectious to others when they are asymptomatic, and these guidelines don’t address these cases."

The updated recommendations were released in new respiratory virus guidance and offer suggestions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, flu, colds, RSV, and other viral respiratory illnesses. Unifying the guidance for these illnesses is an effort to encourage people to stay home and take preventative measures any time they are sick, regardless of the cause.

Despite encouraging sick individuals to isolate themselves until their symptoms improve, the new recommendations do not completely negate the risk of spreading COVID to other people.

Along with the shortened isolation period, the CDC still recommends taking preventative measures such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, and wearing a well-fitting mask in public for five days after symptoms start to clear. Continued use of these prevention tools, according to Guest, remains critical.

I think continuing to promote testing and normalizing people who choose to wear masks is always really important,” she says. “I also think it’s incredibly important to remind everyone that while this puts the COVID-19 guidelines in lockstep with flu, RSV, and other respiratory illnesses, it is a virus that has been, and is, more deadly. And so in many ways, this virus is not the same, and we need to make sure we are consistently talking about that."

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