STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday recommended two alternatives to shorten the 14-day quarantine time advised for people who come into contact with a positive COVID-19 case.
The 14 days is still the “gold standard” for quarantine, said Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith during Wednesday’s Board of Public Health meeting.
But the CDC is now giving an official framework in order to “make some of the quarantine times more manageable,” she said.
Quarantine is for someone who has a known close contact with a positive case, while isolation is for someone who actually is a positive case. Quarantine means staying away from other people.
Exposure means having close contact — generally less than 6 feet for at least 15 minutes, depending on the exposure — according to the Routt County Public Health Department. That could also mean multiple shorter periods of contact with a positive case.
Now, the CDC is offering both a 10-day option and a seven-day option, according to Smith. However, she stressed the incubation time of the virus remains the same at 14 days.
Studies have shown the median incubation period for the virus to be five days.
“For people who have been monitoring themselves for symptoms daily and have not shown any signs of symptoms or illness, that quarantine can end after 10 days,” Smith said. “But they should continue to monitor for symptoms for 14 days.”
While unusual, there are people who don’t exhibit symptoms until two weeks after an exposure.
“We can safely reduce the length of quarantine, but accepting that there is a small residual risk that a person who is leaving quarantine early could transmit to someone else if they became infected,” said Dr. John Brooks, the CDC’s chief medical officer for COVID-19 response.
For people who are closely monitoring their symptoms, who take a test five days after the known exposure — or 48 hours before the end of day seven of the quarantine period — and get a negative result, the quarantine period can end after seven days.
Smith said the CDC is permitting a negative result from either a molecular (PCR) or antigen rapid test.
Those people should also continue to monitor symptoms for 14 days, Smith stressed.
“In no circumstances would a quarantine be discontinued before seven days,” Smith said.
Smith also said people who live in congregate settings, such as assisted living, should still continue to quarantine for the full 14 days.
Also on Wednesday, CDC officials recommended against traveling during the holidays.
As cases spiral across the country, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield warned that December, January and February are going to be rough.
“I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” he said.
For those who do travel, CDC officials recommend people get tested one to three days before their trip and again three to five days after returning.