Here's the CDC's Latest Guidance on COVID-19 Explained

The CDC once again updated its recommendation for how long people should isolate. And it is a bit confusing.


Many universities no longer require SAT or ACT scores from applicants, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still wants to test us. On January 4, the agency once again updated its guidelines on how people who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate themselves, and it reads Like an SAT Prompt, which is to say it seems purposely confusing. 

The latest update somewhat walks back the policy that you can end your quarantine after five days if you test positive but are asymptomatic. That policy, which many people believe was made to appease corporate interests over protecting public health, was immediately criticized and ridiculed after it was announced on December 27.

Now, to figure out if you should isolate yourself for five days or 10 days, the CDC has given us the following instructions:

The agency advises that you should stay home and away from other people from days zero to five. Day zero is your day of exposure. Day one is the first day you begin exhibiting symptoms. For 10 days after exposure, monitor for a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a cough, shortness of breath, or other COVID-19 symptoms. If you are asymptomatic after testing positive, the CDC says you can end your isolation after five days, but it is recommended that you wear a tight-fitting mask while around others until the 10th day. If you end isolation after five days, you should still avoid people who are at high risk, including immunocompromised people and those in nursing homes.

For people who have developed symptoms, whether you know when you were exposed or not, you should get a COVID-19 test as soon as possible and isolate yourself until you have the results.

The CDC has also updated its travel recommendations from the previous shortened five-day isolation period for asymptomatic people. Now, it is recommended that if you travel after being asymptomatic for five days from your exposure, you should wear a well-fitted mask for the entire duration of your trip.

If reading this makes you feel like you are trying to figure out how many watermelons David has left after Danny’s mom bought three and Samantha ate two, I feel you. And while it is certainly understandable that information in this pandemic is fluid, managing the risks and decisions in your own life to determine what is safe and responsible can feel frustrating and overwhelming. The CDC says these latest guidance updates are recommendations that “reflect the societal impact (e.g., critical infrastructure and staffing shortages) and the latest science on disease severity and when and for how long a person is maximally infectious.”

If I were making a flashcard of this latest information, this is what it would say: If you are exposed and sick, test and isolate for 10 days. If you are exposed and not sick, isolate for five days while monitoring symptoms, and mask until the 10th day.

For those of you out there planning travel, the CDC has a comprehensive list of places to avoid travel based on COVID-19 cases and a guide on determining if your cruise ship has a high volume of positive cases.


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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.