CDC officially announces shorter quarantine recommendations: Here’s what it means for travelers

Dec 2, 2020

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Would you be more likely to comply with a seven- or 10-day quarantine, instead of 14? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is betting on it.

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, the CDC officially announced new “acceptable alternatives” to the 14-day quarantine recommended following potential exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.

The quarantine can end after 10 days if a person experiences no symptoms, and the quarantine period could be as short as one week if a person experiences no symptoms and receives a negative COVID-19 test collected and tested within 48 hours of the “planned quarantine discontinuation.” Even with a negative test result, however, the quarantine period should still be a minimum of seven days. 

Since the early days of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the CDC has recommended a 14-day quarantine following potential exposure to the novel coronavirus. Countries, states and even airlines have used this number to determine how long certain travelers need to quarantine upon arrival, how much time must pass before you can fly following a positive COVID-19 test and more.

But getting people to stay home for two whole weeks has proven to be difficult, and the CDC hopes a shorter quarantine recommendation may improve compliance.

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In a telebriefing on Wednesday, Henry Walke, the CDC’s incident manager for COVID-19 response, said a 14-day quarantine is still the “best way to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19,” but said that after “reviewing and analyzing new research and modeling data,” the seven- and 10-day quarantine periods are “acceptable alternative[s].”

Dr. John Brooks, the chief medical officer for the CDC’s COVID-19 response, said during the telebriefing that either the PCR or the antigen test may be used to discontinue the quarantine period — a response that may surprise many travelers, as the PCR test has been held up as the gold standard.

It’s certainly possible some infections may go undetected but, overall, better adherence to quarantine and testing recommendations could tip the scales.

Related: When will international travel return? A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

Recommendations for travel

In addition to reduced quarantine recommendations, the CDC had specific advice for travelers, particularly people who are considering traveling for the holidays.

“With the upcoming winter holidays,” Walke said, “it is important for people to keep themselves and their families as safe as possible.” The CDC is still encouraging travelers to postpone trips and stay home. But, for people who do hit the road or take to the skies, the CDC recommends travelers get tested for COVID-19 one to three days prior to departure and again three to five days after returning home. The tests, Walke said, “should be combined with reducing nonessential activities for a full seven days after travel.”

Without a test, that quarantine period jumps up to 10 days.

The CDC’s reduced quarantine recommendations closely mirror the strategies of certain destinations that have tried to improve traveler compliance and boost tourism.

While it has now walked this back on some islands, such as Kauai, Hawaii recently moved to allow visitors to skip the two-week quarantine period with the results of a negative COVID-19 test in hand taken within 72 hours before departure.

In New York, testing requirements are even more strict. Travelers who have been in another state for more than 24 hours are required to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than three days before departure. Once in New York, a three-day quarantine is still required and will end once another test is taken and comes back negative.

And the U.K. government recently announced a new quarantine and test strategy for international arrivals beginning Dec. 15. Travelers from non-travel corridor countries can choose to quarantine for just five days, after which they can “test out” of the remaining quarantine period.

Related: Where Americans can travel internationally right now

A two-week-long quarantine period has undoubtedly been a massive deterrent for potential travelers, and a shorter quarantine — as little as half the previous recommendation — could make travel more manageable (and appealing). This is especially true if travelers are able to use rapid antigen tests to discontinue their quarantine.

According to The Wall Street Journal, other countries have already reduced their quarantine periods. In September, the Spanish Health Ministry reduced its quarantine period to 10 days, and France lowered its self-isolation period to just one week.

Though expert groups that advise the World Health Organization (WHO) are reviewing the data, the Journal added, the organization’s recommendation currently remains at 14 days.

The CDC’s latest recommendations could very possibly affect travel restrictions and guidelines across the country, and could even have implications for international travel and airlines that require negative COVID-19 tests.

Featured photo by courtneyk/Getty Images.

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