How long you have to quarantine after a COVID-19 infection could change


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Health officials in the United Kingdom just reduced their quarantine guidelines. Rather than 10 days, patients can leave isolation after seven days if their results come back negative on two rapid tests. It’s a change that could also come to the U.S.

When the CDC first set 10 days as the quarantine guidance, the country was in a different position. There were no vaccines or treatments to reduce COVID-19 illness. There also was no omicron variant.

“What we are learning about this new variant is that it does appear that it leaves the nasal passages and upper airway faster than delta or the original virus,” said Dr. Lisa Pickett, chief medical officer at Duke Health.

These early findings could be evidence to support a shorter isolation period. Pickett said it’s good news for the hospital system.

“Our team members in health care live in the community. We actually track the number of our health care workers who are either isolated or infected on a daily basis. We’ve seen that number dramatically increase,” Pickett said.

She worries more sick patients plus quarantined employees could stress the system further, so Duke is currently planning for potential changes.

“Three to five days, perhaps, to isolate infected people before returning them to work. We would test them before they returned. And they would obviously have to be asymptomatic,” she said about the plan being considered.

Delta Airlines sent a letter to the CDC director asking to cut isolation to five days for vaccinated employees with a testing protocol. Delta said in that letter, “With the rapid spread of the omicron variant, the 10-day isolation for those who are fully vaccinated may significantly impact our workforce and operations. Similar to health care, police, fire, and public transportation workforces, the omicron surge may exacerbate shortages and create significant disruptions.”

“We’re actively examining those data now and doing modeling analyses to assess those estimates and we anticipate that we will have some updates soon,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a CBS This Morning interview.

Like the rest of us, Delta and Duke are watching for changes day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour.

“We’re certainly waiting on guidance from our greatest experts, which is the CDC,” Pickett said.

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