Health officials drop 5-day COVID-19 isolation; suggest boosters for those over 65

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its longstanding guidance, saying people can return to work or activities if their symptoms are mild and improving.

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National News

March 1, 2024 - 2:37 PM

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NEW YORK (AP) — Americans who test positive for COVID-19 no longer need to stay in isolation for five days and  older U.S. adults should roll up their sleeves for another COVID-19 shot, even if they got a booster in the fall, U.S. health officials announced.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its longstanding guidance, saying that people can return to work or regular activities if their symptoms are mild and improving and it’s been a day since they’ve had a fever.

Americans 65 and older should get another dose of the updated vaccine that became available in September — if at least four months has passed since their last shot. 

The changes comes at a time when COVID-19 is no longer the public health menace it once was. It dropped from being the nation’s third leading cause of death early in the pandemic to 10th last year.

Most people have some degree of immunity to the coronavirus from past vaccinations or from infections. And many people are not following the five-day isolation guidance anyway, some experts say.

“Our goal here is to continue to protect those at risk for severe illness while also reassuring folks that these recommendation are simple, clear, easy to understand, and can be followed,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the CDC’s director.

“Most COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations last year were among people 65 years and older. An additional vaccine dose can provide added protection … for those at highest risk,” Cohen said.

Some doctors say most older adults are adequately protected by the fall shot, which built on immunity derived from earlier vaccinations and exposure to the virus itself. And preliminary studies so far have shown no substantial waning in vaccine effectiveness over six months.

However, the body’s vaccine-induced defenses tend to fade over time, and that happens faster in seniors than in other adults. The committee had recommended COVID-19 booster doses for older adults in 2022 and 2023.

COVID-19 remains a danger, especially to older people and those with underlying medical conditions. There are still more than 20,000 hospitalizations and more than 2,000 deaths each week due to the coronavirus, according to the CDC. And people 65 and older have the highest hospitalization and death rates.

However, some experts worry that the change may increase the risk of infection for those people who are more vulnerable to developing severe illness.

In September, the government recommended a new COVID-19 shot recipe built against a version of the coronavirus called XBB.1.5. That single-target vaccine replaced combination shots that had been targeting both the original coronavirus strain and a much earlier omicron version.

The CDC recommended the new shots for everyone 6 months and older, and allowed that people with weak immune systems could get a second dose as early as two months after the first.

Most Americans haven’t listened. According to the latest CDC data, 13% of U.S. children have gotten the shots and about 22% of U.S. adults have. The vaccination rate is higher for adults 65 and older, at nearly 42%.

“In each successive vaccine, the uptake has gone down,” said Dr. David Canaday, a Case Western Reserve University infectious diseases expert who studies COVID-19 in older people.

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