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Fully Vaccinated People May Avoid COVID Quarantine, CDC Says

Fully Vaccinated People May Avoid COVID Quarantine, CDC Says

But certain criteria must be met, and for everyone else, a 14-day quarantine is still the best way to contain COVID-19.

Updated on February 11, 2021 at 12:00pm EST.

People who have been fully vaccinated for the coronavirus may not need to quarantine if they are exposed to someone who has COVID-19, according updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Those who’ve received both doses of either the Pfizer or the Moderns mRNA vaccines may skip quarantine—if they meet the following criteria:

  1. It’s been at least 2 weeks since their second shot (enough time to build up their immunity)
  2. It’s not been more than 3 months since their second shot (it’s still unclear how long protection will last)
  3. They have no symptoms of COVID-19 following exposure to an infected person

But even those who are fully vaccinated must continue to wear a medical mask or cloth face covering. In fact, health officials advise that wearing two masks at one time is even better. CDC research shows that wearing a cloth mask on top of a medical mask reduces risk of exposure to infectious particles by 96 percent.

Vaccinated people should also continue to practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from people outside of your home) and follow all other measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, including:

  • Avoiding crowds
  • Limiting time spent indoors in group settings, particularly in poorly ventilated spaces
  • Covering coughs and sneezes
  • Washing hands well and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, per CDC guidelines
  • Not touching your face with unwashed hands

Why? The risk of spread from vaccinated people is still under investigation. Research shows that even immunized people could carry the virus in their nose or throat, and they could potentially infect others around them.

Keep in mind, anyone who is exposed to the coronavirus should watch for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days afterwards—even if they’re fully vaccinated.

What if you’re not vaccinated?
U.S. health officials eased their quarantine guidelines for people who are not vaccinated in December 2020, advising that in certain situations shorter quarantine periods may be acceptable for those exposed to COVID-19.

To be clear, a 14-day quarantine remains the most effective way to reduce the risk of spreading the disease. That advice hasn’t changed.

On average, symptoms appear 5 to 6 days after exposure. In some cases, the incubation period for the coronavirus—the amount of time between exposure to an infection and when symptoms begin—may be up to 14 days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised, however, that a quarantine can end after 10 days if the person has not developed any symptoms, or after just seven days if the person doesn’t have any symptoms and also tests negative for the virus after taking a PCR or rapid-result test within 48 hours.

Unlike isolation, which is required for those who test positive for COVID-19, quarantine applies to those who are classified as “close contacts” of someone diagnosed with the disease. This means they were within 6 feet of an infected person for a combined 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, starting from 2 days before the patient developed symptoms.

Anyone who cared for someone with COVID-19 in their home, had direct physical contact, shared cups or utensils or were coughed or sneezed on by an infected person are also considered close contacts.

The CDC’s virus incident manager, Henry Walke, MD, noted these “two acceptable alternatives” will hopefully encourage more Americans to comply with the guidelines as newly confirmed cases continue to surge in many parts of the country.

"We continue to refine our guidance to prevent transmission and protect Americans," Dr. Walke said. "Reducing the length of quarantine may make it easier for people to follow critical public health action by reducing the economic hardship associated with a longer period, especially if they cannot work during that time."

Even if quarantine for exposure to COVID-19 ends after 7 or 10 days, people should monitor their symptoms for 14 days, the CDC noted.

While many health experts agree the possible benefits of the revised guidelines outweigh the drawbacks, risks do remain.

“We can safely reduce the length of quarantine but accepting there is a small residual risk that a person who is leaving quarantine early could transmit to someone else if they became infectious,” said John Brooks, MD, the CDC’s chief medical officer for the COVID-19 response during a December 2 telebriefing.

Research and disease modelling suggest that ending a quarantine after 10 days without a negative test results in about a 1 percent risk of spreading the virus to others, with an upper limit of about 10 percent, according to the CDC. After 7 days—even with a negative test—there is still a roughly 5 percent chance of spreading the virus with an upper limit of about 12 percent.

Medically reviewed in February 2021.

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States.” Feb 10, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “CDC MEDIA TELEBRIEFING: Update on COVID-19.” Dec 2, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Options to Reduce Quarantine for Contacts of Persons with SARS-CoV-2 Infection Using Symptom Monitoring and Diagnostic Testing.”
Dec 2, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Interim Clinical Guidance for Management of Patients with Confirmed Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).” Nov 3, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “CDC COVID Data Tracker.” Dec 2, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “When to Quarantine.” Oct 27, 2020.

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