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The CDC is revising its COVID guidelines, dropping the five-day isolation period

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The CDC is dropping its recommendation for an isolation period after COVID. The agency is replacing it with general guidance for respiratory viruses. The message is stay home when you're sick. NPR's Pien Huang has more on why the change was made.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: If you have COVID or flu or RSV or whatever respiratory infection, Dr. Mandy Cohen, head of the CDC, says the agency's advice is now simple.

MANDY COHEN: So if you do get sick with the respiratory illness, you get a fever, a cough, body aches, you should stay home. Importantly, get tested because testing allows you to get treatment.

HUANG: Previously, CDC said you should stay home at least five days if you test positive for COVID. Now, if you're feeling better and you don't have a fever, Cohen says you can get back to your normal life while taking additional precautions for the next five days.

COHEN: Things like ventilation, wearing a mask, hand hygiene, staying away from others. So you want to keep protecting folks who are around you.

HUANG: The updated advice makes sense to Dr. Raynard Washington. He's health director in Charlotte, N.C.

RAYNARD WASHINGTON: But COVID is still a threat, but flu is also a threat and so is RSV. Like, I think what this guidance does is it aligns the guidance to meet all of those challenges, not just one of them.

HUANG: A CDC survey showed that less than half of people were testing this winter, and the CDC says the change in guidance may not make much of a difference to transmission. Many people who got COVID weren't isolating anyways. It also says hospitalizations and deaths are way, way down from 2022. Still, Katelyn Jetelina, epidemiologist and CDC adviser, points out that there are almost 20,000 people getting hospitalized with COVID each week.

KATELYN JETELINA: I would really hate for us to just throw up our hands and be like, oh, this is what it is, 20,000 hospitalizations per week because that is unacceptable. But I'm looking for interventions that actually will move that needle.

HUANG: Most hospitalizations and deaths are in people who are 65 and older, and especially those that didn't get a booster shot last fall.

JETELINA: We need to reach those people, either through increased access, either through trusted messengers, either through listening and answering their questions. I mean, this is the hard work.

HUANG: Jetelina says what could really move the needle is to get more people at high risk vaccinated once a year for flu and twice a year for COVID. This week, the CDC recommended a spring COVID booster shot for those 65 and older.

Pien Huang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Pien Huang
Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.