The CDC’s August decision to further ease COVID-19 social distancing and quarantine guidance signals another notable shift in the agency’s approach to COVID-19. These changes largely align with how many Americans have been approaching COVID-19 since the wide availability of vaccines, booster shots and treatments drastically reduced hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.
“We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing and improved ventilation,” said Greta Massetti, PhD, MPH, MMWR author. “This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives.”
Summarizing Changes to COVID-19 Guidelines
The updated guidance includes several important changes, including:
- Removing social distancing recommendations that people stay six feet apart.
- Removing quarantine recommendations for people who were exposed to COVID-19 but don’t have symptoms. This is a big change for schools, where students were previously asked to take regular tests and test negative to stay in the classroom.
- No longer having different sets of recommendations for people who are up to date on their vaccinations and those who aren’t.
Despite these changes, several other important guidelines were maintained, including:
- Regardless of vaccination status, you should still isolate from others for at least five days when you have COVID-19.
- It’s still recommended to wear a mask indoors when community levels of COVID-19 are high.
Similar to the CDC’s February changes to COVID-19 guidance, these updates acknowledge the reality that COVID-19 is here to stay and that many Americans have reached the breaking point when it comes to upending their lives to deal with an ongoing pandemic. “I think they are attempting to meet up with the reality that everyone in the public is pretty much done with this pandemic,” said Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota.
Overall, the changes put a larger emphasis on risk reduction for at-risk groups and shift responsibility away from employers, schools and businesses to individuals.
Updated Booster Shots Coming in September
With COVID-19 here to stay, the best tool we have to limit its impact on our health and our lives continues to be staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines. The Biden administration has announced that updated COVID-19 booster shots will become available in September. While many adults over age 50 have already received a fourth booster shot, the CDC now recommends that adults under 50 without underlying health conditions wait for updated booster shots to be released.
Updated boosters will be reformulated to perform better against the highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.5. This strategy to tweak vaccines for new virus strains is the same approach the CDC and FDA take annually with the flu shot, which changes depending on which variants are circulating most that flu season.
While it’s tempting to take the approach that the pandemic is totally behind us, community levels of COVID-19 remain high in many parts of the U.S. and vulnerable populations are still at risk. As of late August, daily cases were over 100,000 and deaths were still at almost 500 people per day. At this point, we all know the steps to take to protect ourselves and others. Let’s keep taking those common sense steps as fall approaches and we all start spending more time indoors.