The agency reduced the recommended isolation time for those exposed to the coronavirus from 14 days to seven. Our staff writer Amanda Mull explains what that looks like, practically speaking:
The CDC hasn’t so much made a change to its quarantine guidelines as an addition.
The agency’s new recommendation allows for 10- or seven-day quarantine periods as an alternative to the existing 14-day recommendation, creating an array of options that local health departments can choose from. With the 10-day option, which has recently been adopted in France and Germany, the CDC estimates that about 1 percent of infections will be missed. With the seven-day option, which requires a negative test at the end, the agency estimates it will miss about 5 percent of infections.
The theory behind this trade-off is simple: Long quarantines are onerous, and many people will evade contact-tracing or violate health protocols in order to avoid them, often because they need to work or care for children. Shortening quarantine can encourage more people to submit to contact tracing, identifying more potential infections and isolating the exposed during the period they are most likely to be infectious.
For people with a known exposure to an infected individual, the agency still recommends quarantining for a full 14 days after exposure. Even though the median time from exposure to symptoms is four to five days, a small number of cases can take much longer to develop.
Changes in safety protocols often make people nervous, but in the United States, the impact of this one is likely to be negligible. The far bigger problem is that community spread of the virus is raging out of control in virtually every part of the country, and local health departments are so strapped for resources and support that only a very small portion of the country’s new infections can be traced to a known case on any given day. Quarantine protocols work only when exposed people can be identified before they get sick; in America, that’s largely impossible right now.
What to read if … you’re looking for practical advice:
What to read if … you’re following the sentencing of Joshua Wong, the activist in Hong Kong:
His sentence marks an ominous milestone in Hong Kong’s democratic descent, Timothy McLaughlin writes.
Tonight’s Atlantic-approved isolation activity:
Close your day with a poem. Our staff selected nine worth revisiting.
Today’s break from the news:
The prolific cookbook author James Beard helped shape the nation’s culinary identity—for better and for worse, the writer Madeline Leung Coleman argues.
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