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No more quarantines or test-to-stay in schools, CDC reveals sweeping changes to COVID-19 guidance

Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Americans no longer need to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19, a sweeping announcement that rolls back several of the agency's pandemic recommendations.

In new "streamlined" guidance released Thursday, health officials removed the distinction between vaccinated Americans and those who are not up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, meaning the CDC's guidance is now the same for everyone.

The agency says that individuals exposed to someone with COVID-19 no longer need to quarantine and should instead wear a high-quality face mask for 10 days and get tested after five days. Those who test positive for the virus should isolate while they are sick and come out of isolation once they test negative.

Additionally, testing to screen people for COVID-19 is no longer recommended for anyone who does not have COVID symptoms.

Protocols for schools have also been updated. The CDC has ended its "test-to-stay" strategy, which required that children exposed to the virus test negative to continue in-person learning at school. The agency also removed the recommendation that kids in different classrooms avoid mixing.

While health officials emphasized that the pandemic is not over, they said that new vaccines, treatments, and therapeutics have reduced the risk of severe illness to the point that society can now live with COVID.

“We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools—like vaccination, boosters, and treatments—to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19. We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation," the CDC's Dr. Greta Massetti said in a statement.

"This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives,” she added.

A growing number of Americans say they've already returned to living their lives without disruption from COVID.

Four in 10 Americans say they have returned to their "normal, pre-COVID-19 life," according to a new survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center. This is an increase from a prior survey in January when only 16% said their lives were back to normal.

A majority of Americans (54%) also said they never or rarely wear a mask when indoors with people who are not from their household. This is the first time a majority has said they never or rarely wear a mask since the question was first asked in September 2021.

“After more than two years of experience with Covid-19 and its effects, the public is largely aware of the nature and risks of infection,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. “A consistent percentage does not believe a pre-Covid normal will ever be restored. But a growing number have returned to their pre-Covid life. One can only hope that those in each group have accurately calculated the risks and benefits that their decision entails.”

Interestingly, there was a partisan and gender split between who reported they had returned to normal and who said they were still living with pandemic restrictions.

Survey respondents who are male, who report being or leaning Republican, who say they aren't regularly wearing masks, or who indicate they are less worried about getting COVID in the next few months were more likely to say their lives had already returned to normal.

Respondents who are female, who say they are Democrats or lean Democratic, who are 65 and older, who regularly wear masks indoors around non-household members, or who are more worried about catching COVID were less likely to report that their lives have returned to normal.

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