US cuts isolation time for people with asymptomatic Covid to five days

28 December 2021, 13:10 | Updated: 28 December 2021, 13:14

Covid testing in Times Square, New York
Covid testing in Times Square, New York. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

US health officials have cut the recommended isolation period for people with asymptomatic coronavirus from 10 days to five.

The decision has been driven by a recent surge in Covid-19 cases propelled by the Omicron variant.

The number of people becoming infected and needing to isolate or quarantine is threatening hospitals, airlines and other businesses, experts say.

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Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials say the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

Early research suggests Omicron may cause milder illnesses than earlier versions of the coronavirus.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky said the country is about to see a lot of Omicron cases.

"Not all of those cases are going to be severe. In fact many are going to be asymptomatic," she said.

"We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science."

The rules apply to people who, five days after testing positive for coronavirus, have no symptoms.

However, they must wear a mask everywhere - even at home around others - for at least five more days.

Those who still have symptoms after isolating for five days must stay home until they feel better, and then start five days of mask wearing at all times.

The agency is also saying close contacts of infected people but who have had a booster jab can skip isolation if they wear masks in all settings for at least 10 days.

People who have not had all three jabs still need to quarantine, but only for five days and wear a mask for five days afterwards.

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