CDC launches quarantine and isolation calculator to prevent COVID-19 spread

PRODUCTION - 19 January 2022, Bremen: ILLUSTRATION - A man stands at the open window of his apartment. (posed scene) Photo: Sina Schuldt/dpa (Photo by Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty Images)

With all the do’s and don’ts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has rolled out a new tool that will help those who have or have been exposed to the virus figure out how long to quarantine and isolate. 

The agency recently launched its "Quarantine and Isolation Calculator" on its website saying it’s a "tool to help determine how long you need to isolate, quarantine, or take other steps to prevent spreading COVID-19." 

Users will first select whether they tested positive or have had close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. From there, they will select if they have had symptoms and enter the date of when they first appeared. The calculator will then provide a date as to if and when people can leave their homes or stop wearing their masks. 

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According to the CDC, isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. While quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

Throughout the pandemic, the rules of quarantining and isolating have fluctuated. 

Last December, U.S. health officials cut isolation restrictions for asymptomatic Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days, and similarly shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine. CDC officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

Prior to that, the agency loosened rules that previously called on health care workers to stay out of work for 10 days if they tested positive. The new recommendations said workers could go back to work after seven days if they test negative and don’t have symptoms. And the agency said isolation time could be cut to five days, or even fewer, if there are severe staffing shortages.

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Those infected with COVID-19 should isolate

The isolation rules are for people who are infected. They are the same for people who are unvaccinated, partly vaccinated, fully vaccinated or boosted.

They say:

— The clock starts the day you test positive.

— An infected person should go into isolation for five days, instead of the previously recommended 10.

— At the end of five days, if you have no symptoms, you can return to normal activities but must wear a mask everywhere — even at home around others — for at least five more days.

— If you still have symptoms after isolating for five days, stay home until you feel better and then start your five days of wearing a mask at all times.

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People should quarantine if they’ve had close contact with someone infected with COVID-19

The quarantine rules are for people who were in close contact with an infected person but not infected themselves.

For quarantine, the clock starts the day someone is alerted they may have been exposed to the virus.

Previously, the CDC said people who were not fully vaccinated and who came in close contact with an infected person should stay home for at least 10 days.

Now the agency is saying only people who got booster shots can skip quarantine if they wear masks in all settings for at least 10 days.

That’s a change. Previously, people who were fully vaccinated — which the CDC has defined as having two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — could be exempt from quarantine.

Now, people who got their initial shots but not boosters are in the same situation as those who are partly vaccinated or are not vaccinated at all: They can stop quarantine after five days if they wear masks in all settings for five days afterward.

The CDC guidance is not a mandate; it’s a recommendation to employers and state and local officials.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.