The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention want to make it easier for Americans to stay clear of COVID-19.
The pandemic has been going on for 2½ years, but conditions are constantly changing – and that can complicate efforts to prevent the worst effects.
Whether you’ve been diligent in reducing your risk or you’ve gone back to your pre-pandemic ways, the new advice aims to help you stay safe.
“Today, the CDC is streamlining its COVID-19 guidelines to help people better understand their risk, how to protect themselves and others, what actions to take if exposed to COVID-19, and what actions to take if they being sick or testing positive for the virus,” the agency said in a statement.
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The new guideline was published Thursday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It is intended to hasten the arrival of the day when COVID-19 will “no longer seriously disrupt our daily lives,” said Greta Massetti, a member of the CDC COVID-19 Emergency Response Team and lead author of the report.
Here’s a look at the CDC’s advice:
The first-generation COVID-19 vaccines may not stop you from getting a coronavirus infection, but they will significantly reduce your risk of becoming seriously ill.
“The rates of COVID-19-associated hospitalization and death are significantly higher among unvaccinated adults than among those aware of the recommended COVID-19 vaccination,” the report says.
How much higher? In May, according to the CDC, unvaccinated people ages 5 and older were six times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their fully vaccinated counterparts. The older you are, the more protection the vaccine provides.
Nationally, 67.3% of Americans are fully vaccinated. But only 48.3% of those who qualify for their first booster shot got it. If you’re not one of them, the CDC is urging you to change that and stay on top of your vaccinations.
Here’s some motivation: In May, unvaccinated people aged 12 and older were nine times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their counterparts who had been vaccinated and boosted.
Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19
The sooner you find out you have an infection, the sooner you can take steps to prevent further transmission.
There is also a selfish reason to get tested if you suspect you have COVID-19. The antiviral drug Paxlovid works best when started right away. If you qualify for the pills, but wait more than five days to take them, they won’t reduce your risk of becoming seriously ill.
The new guideline also recommends that people get tested after being exposed to someone with COVID-19. But the CDC in most cases no longer recommends testing to screen for infections in asymptomatic people. (Screening can still be valuable in high-risk environments like nursing homes and prisons, the agency says.)
Isolate when you are sick
If you get COVID-19, isolate yourself from others for at least five days, as that is when you are most likely to spread the virus to others.
The day you experience your first symptoms or test positive (whichever comes first) is Day 0 and Day 1 is the full day that follows. You can stop isolating after day 5 if you don’t have a fever (without medication) and all other symptoms have improved. The CDC says you don’t have to test negative to end your isolation (although the state of California disagrees).
If you stop isolating, you should wear a high-quality mask until the end of day 10. However, you may drop your mask sooner if you test negative for two consecutive coronavirus tests taken at least 48 hours apart, according to new federal guidelines. If you want to try this shortcut, the first test should be done no earlier than day 6.
(Be warned: A small study published last week in the journal JAMA Network Open found that it took an average of eight days for people with asymptomatic infections to test negative even once, while those with COVID-19 symptoms, on average. took from nine days to test negative.)
Certain groups of people need to isolate for at least 10 full days, the CDC says. These included people who were moderately ill (had shortness of breath or other breathing difficulties) or were severely ill (requiring hospital treatment). If you were critically ill or immunocompromised, you should consult your doctor before ending isolation.
Take Evusheld if eligible
People who are immunocompromised may not develop a strong immune response to COVID-19 vaccines. If you’re in this category, you can bolster your defenses with Evusheld.
The medication, administered in a series of two injections, provides the recipients with monoclonal antibodies. These lab-made antibodies serve as replacements for the ones your body didn’t make on its own.
The drug is also recommended for people who cannot take COVID-19 vaccines because they are at risk for a serious side effect, such as anaphylaxis.
Quarantine is often confused with isolation. But they’re different: An isolated person knows they’re infected, while a quarantined person risks getting infected because they’ve been exposed to someone who is.
In the past, the CDC has approved quarantines as a way to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus, especially for people who have not been vaccinated.
No longer. At this point in the pandemic, so many people have antibodies to the coronavirus as a result of vaccination, a previous infection or a combination of the two that a general recommendation to quarantine under the new guidelines makes no sense.
However, if you’ve been exposed to an infected person, get tested at least five days later (or sooner, if you develop COVID-19 symptoms). You should also wear a mask if you are around others for 10 days.
Contact tracing is now only recommended for healthcare facilities and certain other high-risk settings where people live in close proximity to one another.
Elsewhere, the CDC is advising public health professionals to focus their efforts on making sure people exposed to the virus know how to get tested.
The CDC updates the levels for each province in the country on Thursday. This statistic takes into account the amount of coronavirus transmission in a province, as well as the impact COVID-19 is having on local hospitals.
The higher your COVID-19 community level, the more precautions you need to take, the CDC says.