DENVER (KDVR) — People across Colorado and the country are once again working to understand another change to COVID-19 guidelines.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is cutting recommended time for isolation from 10 days to five for people with COVID-19, followed by five days of wearing a mask around others. The guidance is only for people who are no longer showing symptoms after the five-day mark. Others should continue to isolate if symptoms persist.
The CDC also updated recommended quarantine times for those in close contact with a COVID-19 case. Unvaccinated individuals, or those more than six months out from their second round of the two-dose vaccine and not yet boosted, should quarantine for five days followed by strict mask wearing for an additional five days.
“The idea is this is not a free pass. If you have COVID, you can still transmit it and be very thoughtful about that,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention at UCHealth.
Barron said early data indicated a 10-day average period for when the virus could be detected and transmitted. However, she says more recent data show new variants, like omicron, move faster.
“The virus factory turns on and it goes crazy but then it burns itself out. Five days is around when you start seeing a rapid decline,” Barron said.
Health experts believe a person is most infectious two days before and three days after symptoms develop.
The change in guidelines comes as the omicron variant is spreading. In Colorado, the variant now makes up at least 91% of new cases, according to state data.
“Like all things with COVID, the science has evolved pretty rapidly and we change in terms of what we’re recommending. I know it feels like the timing is off, but if you were to go back in the last two years, I think we’ve had moments like this a lot of times where it’s like, ‘They want us to do what? Do that now?'” Barron said.
Barron said the change gives them more flexibility to keep hospitals properly staffed amid the rise of omicron.
Denver bar owner Jeremy Matzke currently has three employees out with COVID-19.
“All of them have been vaccinated. It has made it harder because of the schedule, especially over the holidays,” Matzke said.
He said cutting the isolation time to five days will help ease staffing shortages. But, he has reservations about bringing employees back too soon after testing positive.
“I’m hesitant to just jump out there. I want to see a little more on this. I hope it works,” Matzke said.