US shortens COVID-19 quarantine in hopes of greater compliance

Government agency says those exposed who do not show symptoms can choose to quarantine for less than 14 days.

The United States has seen a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations as the colder months set in [Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press]

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has offered an alternative shortened quarantine period for individuals exposed to the coronavirus who show no symptoms, hoping it will increase compliance in the country.

While the agency still recommends a 14-day quarantine, it said Wednesday that those who have been exposed to an infected person but have shown no symptoms can choose to quarantine for only seven days if they have tested negative for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, exposed individuals who show no symptoms but have not been tested can quarantine for just 10 days.

“Reducing the length of quarantine may make it easier for people to follow critical public health action by reducing the economic hardship associated with a longer period, especially if they cannot work during that time,” CDC official Henry Walke told reporters on a conference call.

“We believe that if we can reduce the burden a little bit, accepting that it comes at a small cost, we may get a greater compliance overall,” he said, while adding that exposed individuals should still monitor their symptoms for 14 days.

Speaking on Fox News on Wednesday, CDC Director Robert Redfield said the change came after studies indicated a 10-day quarantine had “a remarkable impact” in slowing the spread of the virus. The agency said there is a one to 12 percent of chance of someone spreading the virus after quarantining for that period.

Studies also show that people usually start showing symptoms of the disease within five days of exposure. However, the CDC had earlier said between 40 percent and 50 percent of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.

The change in guidance is a slight departure from the approach of the World Health Organization, which still recommends all exposed individuals quarantine for 14 days.

The updated guidance comes as the US continues to see a new surge in cases and hospitalisations as the country enters its coldest months. To date, over 13.7 million cases have been recorded, with over 272,000 deaths in the US – the highest number in both categories of any country in the world.

Meanwhile, state officials and healthcare systems across the country are preparing for the first distributions of a vaccine, which could come in mid-December pending emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

On Tuesday, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an influential government advisory panel, said that healthcare workers and nursing home residents should receive the first round of vaccines.

Current estimates project that no more than 20 million doses of the two vaccines currently pending approval will be available by the end of 2020.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies