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The state public health department has updated its quarantine and isolation guidance, changing how long it suggests people with COVID-19 — or those who are exposed to it — should avoid others.
Colorado made the move to align with the change in recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to a Dec. 27 news release.
“Isolation” refers to the steps a person should take after a confirmed infection, according to the CDC's website. Quarantine, on the other hand, is when people avoid others after exposure to the virus and wait to see whether sickness occurs.
The updated guidance reduces the recommended time in isolation for those in the general population with COVID-19 from 10 to five days if asymptomatic on day five, followed by an additional five days wearing a mask when around others, according to the state public health department.
Depending on local public health orders, mask wearing may be required in public in general indoors regardless of isolation or quarantine.
Earlier in the pandemic, the CDC recommended a quarantine period of 14 days. In December 2020, the CDC adjusted, saying people can stop quarantining after 10 days without a test. (At the time, the agency provided the option that quarantine can end after day 7 if a person tests negative.)
Now, the new quarantine guidance depends on how long it has been since a person's initial vaccine shots and whether the person has received a booster shot.
For those who have been exposed to the virus, the CDC now recommends quarantine for five days followed by mask use for an additional five days for people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine dose — or more than two months after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine — and have not yet received a third dose (or second dose if receiving the J&J vaccine), according to the state public health department.
The established guidelines primarily apply to those who are unvaccinated or were vaccinated more than six months ago and did not get a booster shot.
People who have more recently completed their primary vaccination series, meaning within six months of a person's second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or within two months of their J&J dose — or who have received their third dose (or second dose if receiving the J&J vaccine) do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but they should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure.
Again, the public should note that local orders may require mask wearing in public regardless of the above guidance.
The CDC's own specific guidance on mask wearing says that people, including children older than 2, should wear a mask in indoor public places if they are:
• Not fully vaccinated
• Fully vaccinated and in an area with “substantial or high” COVID transmission
• Fully vaccinated and with weakened immune systems
For information on the number of COVID cases in local communities and counties, visit the CDC's website here.
Regardless of vaccination status, the CDC recommends testing on day 5 after exposure or immediately if symptoms develop, according to the state public health department.
“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after,” the CDC said in a Dec. 27 news release about the updated isolation and quarantine guidance.
MORE: CDC's current travel guidelines
The state public health department also released updated school guidance to align with the CDC’s new recommendations for COVID-19 prevention — including isolation and quarantine — in school settings, according to a Jan. 7 news release.
The new isolation recommendations for school settings align with the CDC’s recent guidance for the general population, according to the news release.
“People who have mild symptoms can end isolation after five full days only if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and if other symptoms have improved,” the release said.
When counting the days, “day 0” is considered the first day of symptoms or the day of a positive test for asymptomatic people.
Similar to the quarantine guidance for the general public, the state now recommends that students and staff who come into close contact with someone with COVID-19 should quarantine for at least five days after exposure if they are in one of the following groups:
• Ages 18 or older and completed the primary series (first two doses) of recommended vaccine but have not received a third (booster) dose when eligible
• Those who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine over two months ago and have not received a booster dose
• Those who are not vaccinated or have not completed a primary vaccine series
People who are unable to wear a mask around others, including children under 2 years old and people of any age with certain disabilities, should quarantine for a full 10 days after exposure, the release said.
Students and staff who come into close contact with someone with COVID-19 do not need to quarantine if they:
• Are 18 or older and have received all recommended vaccine doses, including third doses and additional primary shots for some immunocompromised people
• Are ages 5-17 and completed the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines
• Had a confirmed positive COVID-19 viral test within the last 90 days
To provide time for Colorado educators to receive their third doses, staff who are fully vaccinated but have not yet received their third doses may return to work following an exposure until Feb. 1 under the guidance, the release said. They should obtain a negative test result before returning to work and wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days after exposure, the release added. Testing should be repeated on day 5.
Staff will be considered up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations immediately upon receiving a third or booster dose; a 14-day window after that vaccination is not necessary, the release said.
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