The top US health agency on Thursday eased its COVID-19 guidelines, dropping the recommendation that Americans self-quarantine if they come into close contact with an infected person.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said people no longer need to be at least six feet away from others.
The changes are being driven by the realization that — more than two and a half years since the pandemic began — an estimated 95 percent of Americans age 16 and older have acquired some level of immunity, either through vaccination or infection, agency officials said.
“The current conditions of this pandemic are very different from those of the past two years,” said Greta Massetti of the CDC, an author of the guidelines.
In Canada, that’s appreciated more than half of Canadians have been infected with COVID since December following the emergence of Omicron and its highly contagious subvariants, and more than 80 percent of Canadians have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) still recommends a 10-day quarantine upon entry into Canada if travelers test positive at the border or exhibit symptoms, but provincial public health restrictions vary across the country.
The CDC recommendations apply to everyone in the United States, but the changes could be especially important for schools that are resuming classes in many parts of the country this month.
Perhaps the biggest education-related change is the end of the recommendation that schools conduct routine daily testing, although that practice can be reintroduced in certain situations during a spike in infections, officials said.
The CDC also dropped a “test-to-stay” recommendation that would allow students who have been exposed to COVID-19 to test regularly — rather than quarantine themselves at home — to continue attending school. Since there was no longer a quarantine recommendation, the test option also disappeared.
Masks continue to be recommended only in areas where community transmission is considered high or where a person is considered at high risk of serious illness.
School districts across the US have been scaling back their COVID-19 precautions in recent weeks, even before the CDC eased its guidance.
Masks will be optional in most school districts when classes resume this fall, and some of the nation’s largest districts have rolled back or eliminated COVID-19 testing requirements.
Some have also moved away from test-to-stay programs, which became unmanageable during the Omicron variant surge last school year. With so many new infections among students and staff, many schools have struggled to trace and test their close contacts, prompting a temporary return to remote classes in some places.
The average number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths was relatively flat this summer at around 100,000 cases per day and 300 to 400 deaths.
The CDC previously said that if people who are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations come into close contact with a person who tests positive, they should stay home for at least five days. Now the agency says home quarantine is not required but urges those people to wear a quality mask for 10 days and get tested after five days.
The agency goes on to say that people who test positive should isolate themselves from others for at least five days, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated. CDC officials advise that people can exit isolation if they have been fever-free for 24 hours without taking medication and have no symptoms or if symptoms improve.