When can I leave the house? CDC reportedly poised to loosen COVID isolation restrictions

CHICAGO (WGN-TV) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is poised to loosen restrictions after a COVID infection, the Washington Post reported this week. The changes aren’t yet official, but sources told the Post that the CDC is planning to drop its recommendation that people who test positive for COVID isolate for five days.

“People who have COVID instead of isolating for five days, [the CDC is] making the recommendation that they isolate until they stop having a fever,” Michael Angarone, an infectious disease specialist with Northwestern Medicine, said about the guidance expected to be put in place in the coming months. “And once they haven’t had a fever for 24 hours without taking any fever reducing medications, they can come off isolation.”

The relaxed recommendation was first proposed back in August, the Washington Post reports.

But as cases rose and federal health experts worried about the triple threat of respiratory illnesses – COVID, flu and RSV – they backed off.

“There were a lot of people getting sick but we just weren’t seeing as many people getting severely ill,” Angarone said. “I think the more they’ve gotten the infection, the less severe the symptoms are and it tends to be a little bit short-lived.”

Currently, the CDC recommends those who test positive stay home and isolate from others for at least five days – the time period the agency says people are most contagious. After five days, people who had no symptoms can end the isolation period. Those who had symptoms can leave isolation after the five-day period if they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours.

Under the new guidelines, as reported by the Post, only the last part of those guidelines would still be relevant. Being fever-free for a day, without the use of any fever-reducing medications like Tylenol, would be the ticket to freedom.

Doctors, however, say people still have a responsibility of diligence.

“I think the idea that am I feeling with that runny nose, that sore throat, maybe I should isolate, stay home from work, stay home from school or just not go to the grocery story,” Angarone said. “Or if I have to, wear a mask and trying to protect people as best I can.”

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, an internal medicine doctor and cardiovascular health expert, told CNN he is worried about the proposed changes.

“The problem I have with just sort of letting go of really all of these guidelines is that the public is not always that considerate,” he said.

While for most people an infection is mild, it can be serious to those with pre-existing health conditions and vulnerabilities, Reiner pointed out. He suggested people who are sick still stay home if they can, and wear a mask around others if they’re experiencing any lingering symptoms, regardless of fever.

It’s not clear what, if any, changes would be made to the CDC’s masking guidelines.

“You have two different sides. One side is like, yes, this is what we should be doing, no masks at all,” Angarone said. “And then you have the other side that’s very nervous about it and I think it is the idea of how do you kind of come somewhere in the middle. Part of it is we need to live our lives, but then we also have to think about other people.”

Washington Post national health reporter Lena Sun said the proposals are still fluid.

“I am reporting that this may happen sometime in April,” Sun said. “Discussions are ongoing. The White House has not signed off on anything.”

Doctors are especially concerned about the most vulnerable, elderly people, immune-compromised and pregnant women.

The CDC has not proposed lifting the more stringent COVID guidelines in places like hospital settings, the Post reports.

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