The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance decreasing the time that a person should isolate following a positive COVID-19 test.

The recommended time for isolation for those with COVID-19 is now five days instead of 10 days, for those asymptomatic, followed by five days of wearing a mask when around others.

The quarantine recommendation for those exposed to COVID-19 has also decreased. The CDC said the unvaccinated (or more than two months after the J&J vaccine and not yet boosted) should quarantine for five days and mask around others for an additional five days. Those who have received their booster do not need to quarantine but do need to wear a mask for 10 days, the CDC recommends.

The CDC stated that the best practice would also include a test for SARS-CoV-2 on the fifth day after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms their symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) follows the guidance of the CDC, so it issued two alerts changing guidance to reflect the new CDC recommendations.

This move will help employers, particularly healthcare facilities (where workers are routinely testing positive for COVID), to maintain appropriate staffing levels as workers will return to work sooner following a COVID-19 exposure or positive coronavirus test.

COVID-19 cases are rising due to the new Omicron variant and people traveling to gatherings over the Christmas holiday last week.

ADPH stated: “The Omicron variant continues to spread, and vaccination is the best way to protect health and reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our communities.”

Facilities are best positioned to evaluate their own needs as to whether conventional, contingency or crisis strategies are most appropriate at a given time. Therefore, the guidance for contingency and crisis management in the setting of significant healthcare worker shortages was also updated. “If conventional strategies cannot be sustained during a surge in cases, facilities may consider implementing contingency strategies, then crisis strategies, in an incremental manner.”

Personnel that have received all COVID-19 vaccine and booster doses as recommended by the CDC, do not need to be restricted from work if they have had a higher-risk exposure but do not have symptoms. However, they should isolate immediately if they develop symptoms. Asymptomatic healthcare personnel who have not received both the COVID-19 vaccine and the booster, who have had a higher-risk exposure to SARS-CoV-2, can return to the workplace after day 10 without testing.

This is designed to help mitigate staffing shortages due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

Healthcare personnel with SARS-CoV-2 infection under conventional conditions:

Healthcare facilities can allow asymptomatic healthcare personnel with SARS-CoV-2 infection, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not, to return to work after seven days and a negative test in accordance with CDC guidance. For healthcare personnel who were symptomatic, fever should have resolved without medications. Under contingency or crisis conditions, facilities may elect to shorten this seven-day isolation period with or without testing depending on the circumstances.

If allowed to return to work before the seven-day period, these healthcare personnel should wear a respirator or well-fitting facemask even when they are in non-patient care areas. Facilities should consider assigning these healthcare personnel to duties that do not include care of immunocompromised patients.

Conventional work restrictions for healthcare personnel should not be shortened for healthcare personnel who are moderately to severely immunocompromised. In the event of ongoing transmission within a facility that is not controlled with initial interventions, strong consideration should be given to using more stringent work restrictions for healthcare personnel with higher-risk exposures.

In the past week, the percent positivity in COVID-19 tests in Alabama has more than doubled to 22.1% with new cases doubling, and all but six counties in a high level of community transmission. ADPH is urging all age-eligible Alabamians to continue to get vaccinated and those 16 years of age and above to be boosted to reduce severe disease, hospitalization and death.

According to CDC, data from South Africa and the United Kingdom demonstrate that vaccine effectiveness against infection for two doses of an mRNA vaccine is approximately 35%. A COVID-19 vaccine booster dose restores vaccine effectiveness against infection to 75%.

Some have criticized the CDC for the new guidelines suggesting that the new COVID-19 isolation and quarantine guidance has too many holes.

In the early days of the pandemic, CDC recommended a 14-day isolation period for anyone infected with the virus. That eventually changed to 10 days, regardless of a person's vaccination status and whether or not they were symptomatic. Now it has been reduced to five days.

The lack of a requirement for a negative test after five days frustrated some critics, who said it was based on data that predated the Omicron variant.

President Joseph Biden on Tuesday formally revoked the travel restrictions on eight countries in southern Africa over the spread of the Omicron variant, which spread anyway despite the restrictions.

"Since I issued that proclamation, our Nation's health officials, in collaboration with the South African scientists who originally reported the variant, have made substantial progress in understanding the Omicron variant," Biden said. "Importantly, scientific experts have determined that people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are protected against severe disease and hospitalization from the Omicron variant. Moreover, the Omicron variant has now spread to more than 100 countries, and it is prevalent in the United States."

The CDC said on Monday that Omicron accounts for about 59% of all U.S. infections as of Christmas. Previously, the CDC said the Omicron variant comprised 73% of all cases for the week ending Dec. 18. That number has now been revised to 22.5% of all cases.

Biden said on Tuesday he would impose a mandate that Americans must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to be allowed to travel domestically if his medical team recommends it.

“Everything that comes up as a possibility, we put it on the table and we consider it, that does not mean that it is likely to happen,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Monday. “I doubt if we’re going to see something like that in the reasonably foreseeable future.”

The CDC confirmed Tuesday that the fully vaccinated can still transmit the Omicron strain.

(Original reporting by The Hill, Reuters, Fox News, and the International Business Times contributed to this report).

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