UNLV Changes COVID-19 Quarantine Protocol

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The drive-thru line to get a COVID-19 vaccine and testing clinics when it was at the UNLV Paradise Campus. Photo by Jimmy Romo

Over the winter break, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance for isolation and quarantine for those who test positive for COVID-19, and UNLV changed its guidelines to match the CDC. 

The CDC now recommends a five day quarantine period followed by five days of strictly wearing a well-fitting mask when in the presence of others. This applies to those with cases who are asymptomatic or whose symptoms resolve within the first five days. Although, if a fever persists, it is recommended to stay home until the fever resolves.

“The CDC has shortened the isolation period, but not how people think,” a UNLV assistant professor and principal investigator of UNLV’s COVID-19 contact tracing team, Brian Labus said.

Quarantine went from 10 days to five days, and that is actually a misunderstanding of what they did. According to Labus, the CDC said it is still 10 days, but if you’re feeling better at day five and your fever has been gone for 24 hours and your symptoms are better, than the risk of you spreading the disease goes way down.

Those who meet the criteria can leave isolation after those five days, but Labus mentions that they still need to wear a mask when they are around other people for that entire 10 day period. He explains it just allows people who have recovered a chance to get back to their lives a little sooner, but it does not mean that everybody just waits five days instead of 10. That has really been a big misunderstanding.

A new set of guidelines have also been changed for people who come into contact with someone who has contracted COVID-19 are based on vaccination status.

If someone is fully vaccinated within the last six months via a two shot mRNA vaccine series, fully vaccinated within the last two months with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or fully vaccinated with a booster shot, the CDC only recommends to wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days, stay home if symptoms arise and test at day five if possible.

If fully vaccinated for longer than six months, or two months for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or unvaccinated, the CDC recommends the same quarantine protocol as a positive test, while also testing on day five if possible. 

“When it comes to quarantine, we’ve had to change things based on our vaccination,” Labus said. “Before it was if you were vaccinated, you didn’t need to quarantine after exposure. Now, there’s some more nuance based on how long it’s been since you were vaccinated.” 

“So boosters have worked into the equation. If you’re boosted, you don’t need to quarantine. But if you’re vaccinated and not boosted, it depends on if it’s been five months or more or not. So it kind of depends where you are in your immune response as to what you need to do.”

The changes in quarantine guidelines come as the CDC begins to better understand the COVID-19 virus and as the more contagious Omicron variant continues to dominate in the United States. COVID-19 is now known to be most contagious one to two days before symptoms arise and the three to five days after they first appear. The recommendation for continued mask use after the first five days is to continue to still maintain a layer of protection until it is certain that you are no longer contagious.

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