Only five days of isolation are now required for those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 but are asymptomatic because of new state guidelines.

The Washington State Department of Health released the new guidelines on Dec. 28 shortly after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their updated guidelines the day before.

The recommendation for those diagnosed with COVID-19 is for five days of isolation if they are asymptomatic on the final day.

Those individuals should spend the next five days with strict mask wearing.

Individuals who have symptoms should spend the full 10 days in quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not related to COVID-19.

“I do want to emphasize that this is grounded in science. The majority of transmission does occur early in the course of illness,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for COVID response with the Washington State Department of Health during a Dec. 30 press briefing.

Fehrenbach said the data shows that most transmission happens one or two days prior to the onset of symptoms or in the few days following that.

“[The new guideline] also helps society keeps running and that is also important in a pandemic,” she said.

Recommendations for those exposed to a COVID-19 positive person depend on a couple of factors.

Unvaccinated individuals and those more than six months away from their original Moderna/Pfizer vaccine or two months away from their Johnson & Johnson vaccine should quarantine for five days, followed by five days of “strict mask use.”

Vaccinated individuals who have received a booster shot do not need to quarantine but should wear a mask.

Those who experience symptoms should quarantine until a negative test confirms those symptoms are not COVID-19 related.

If in doubt after quarantining, individuals should get a COVID-19 test.

Officials acknowledged the high demand for tests currently.

“We have heard about overloading of the testing systems in many laboratories,” said Tao Kwan-Gett, chief science officer with the Washington State Department of Health.

The freezing conditions in late December also did not help with the supply chain problems. 

“We are very impacted by the weather. It’s impacting vaccine and testing access to be honest,” said Fehrenbach.

The federal government is also beginning efforts that could provide tests for families across the nation. 

Washington state officials hope to work on similar local efforts to get more tests in residents’ hands. 

State officials also said that although the new guidelines ask for “strict mask use” for those returning after five days in isolation, regular mask use by everyone is still needed.

“We do note that mask wearing should continue after and beyond your isolation quarantine period in any indoor public setting,” said Fehrenbach.

This is especially true with the increased transmissibility of the omicron variant, which appears to be the majority of cases now in Washington state.

“The omicron variant does have more ability to aerosolize than prior variants, which means it can more regularly escape medical masks,” said Kwan-Gett.


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