NEW YORK – The nation’s top public health agency relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines on Thursday, dropping the recommendation that Americans self-quarantine if they come into close contact with an infected person.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said people no longer need to stay at least 6 feet away from others.
The changes, which come more than 2.5 years into the pandemic, are driven by the recognition that approximately 95% of Americans 16 and older have acquired some level of immunity, either by being vaccinated or by being infected, according to agency officials. said.
“The current conditions of this pandemic are very different from those of the past two years,” said CDC’s Greta Massetti, author of the guidelines.
Many places across the country have long since abandoned social distancing and other once-common precautions, but some of the changes could be particularly significant for schools, which are resuming classes this month in many parts of the country.
Perhaps the biggest education-related change is the end of the recommendation that schools conduct routine daily testing, although the practice may be reinstated in some situations during a spike in infections, officials said. responsible.
The CDC also dropped a “test to stay” recommendation that students exposed to COVID-19 could regularly test — instead of quarantining at home — to continue attending school. With no quarantine recommendation, the testing option has also disappeared.
Masks continue to be recommended only in areas where community transmission is deemed high, or if a person is deemed to be at high risk for severe illness.
School districts across the United States have reduced their COVID-19 precautions in recent weeks even before the latest guidelines were released. Some have promised a return to pre-pandemic schooling.
Masks will be optional in most districts when classes resume this fall, and some of the nation’s largest districts have recalled or eliminated COVID-19 testing requirements.
Los Angeles Public Schools is ending weekly COVID-19 testing, instead making home testing available to families, the district announced last week. Schools in Wake County in North Carolina have also dropped weekly tests.
Some others have moved away from test-to-stay programs that became unmanageable during the omicron variant pushes last year.
The American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions, said it welcomed the advice.
“Every educator and every parent begins each school year with great hope, and this year even more so,” said President Randi Weingarten. “After two years of uncertainty and disruption, we need as normal a year as possible so we can focus like a laser on what children need.”
The new recommendations prioritize keeping children in school as much as possible, said Joseph Allen, director of Harvard University’s healthy building program. Previous isolation policies forced millions of students to stay home from school, he said, even though the virus poses a relatively low risk to young people.
“Entire classes of children were expected to miss school if they were considered a close contact,” he said. “Schools closed and disruptions to learning have been devastating.”
Others say the CDC is going too far in relaxing its guidelines.
Allowing students to return to school five days after infection, without proof of a negative COVID-19 test, could lead to outbreaks in schools, said Anne Sosin, a public health researcher at Dartmouth College. It could force entire schools to close temporarily if teachers fall ill in large numbers, a dilemma some schools faced last year.
“We all want a stable school year, but wishful thinking is not the strategy to get there,” she said. “If we want a return to normal in our schools, we need to invest in the conditions for that, not just drop everything to chance as we see across the country.”
The average number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths has remained relatively stable this summer, at around 100,000 cases per day and 300 to 400 deaths.
The CDC has previously said that if people who are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations come into close contact with someone who tests positive, they should stay home for at least five days. Now the agency says home quarantine is not necessary, but it is urging such people to wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested after five.
The agency continues to say that people who test positive should isolate themselves from others for at least five days, whether or not they have been vaccinated. CDC officials are advising people to end isolation if they have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication and they have no symptoms or symptoms improve.
Also on Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration updated its recommendations on how many times people exposed to COVID-19 should be tested.
Previously, the FDA had advised doing two rapid antigen tests over two or three days to rule out infection. Now the agency recommends three tests.
FDA officials said the change was based on new studies that suggest the old protocol may miss too many infections and lead to the spread of the coronavirus, especially if he doesn’t develop symptoms.
Binkley reported from Washington. Associated Press Health writer Matthew Perrone in Washington contributed to this report.
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