The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened its Covid-19 guidelines for isolation and testing in schools on Thursday as the country emerges from another bruising wave of cases and Americans’ pandemic fatigue continues to deepen.
In a much-anticipated decision, the CDC lifted previous recommendations that students quarantine if exposed to someone positive for the virus. The new guidance also drops recommendations that schools limit students’ contacts by cohorting them in groups during the day. And it said that schools should no longer conduct Covid-19 routine testing for asymptomatic or unexposed students, suggesting schools consider doing that only in response to an outbreak, high community risk or a high-risk event at the school, like a prom or a large sports event.
The new guidance ends last year’s “test-to-stay” recommendation that schools could test exposed students for the virus as a way to avoid quarantine.
The agency also dropped its guidance that unvaccinated people or those not up to date on their vaccines quarantine after exposure and said that schools should take the same approach for students.
Exposed students, as well as unvaccinated people who come into contact with someone with Covid-19, should take a test after five days and wear a mask for 10 days. The CDC now only recommends quarantine for anyone who tests positive for Covid-19, suggesting they remain at home for at least five days.
The agency’s general masking guidance for schools remains unchanged, recommending a mask in medium-level community risk areas for only immunocompromised or high-risk individuals or those with high-risk close contacts, and recommending that everyone ages 2 and older should don one indoors in areas of high-level community risk.
“We know that Covid-19 is here to stay,” said Greta Massetti, author of the CDC report that outlines the new guidelines, during a Thursday briefing. “Currently, high levels of population immunity due to vaccination and previous infection and the many tools that we have available to protect people from severe illness and death have put us in a different space.”
The new guidance also said efforts to screen for the virus in most community settings should include testing of both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
About 95 percent of the U.S. population now have antibodies from either prior infection or vaccination, Massetti said, providing protection from severe disease: “So it really makes the most sense to not differentiate with our guidance or our recommendations based on vaccination status at this time.”