California says asymptomatic people exposed to coronavirus don’t need to quarantine

California is no longer recommending a five-day quarantine period for people exposed to the coronavirus but who remain asymptomatic, a move that could potentially lead to a relaxation of similar rules in Los Angeles County.

Officials say this would ease the burden on employers and institutions to keep otherwise healthy people home after exposure. The move also reflects a new pandemic reality, state officials say — that the slow but steady increase in vaccination rates and the availability of anti-COVID drugs are reducing the overall risk that California hospitals will be overwhelmed by future outbreaks. potential.

The California Department of Public Health still recommends that anyone who tests positive or has symptoms of COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status, self-isolate and stay home for at least five days. after onset of illness or after date of first positive test. The state says isolation can end after day five if the person has no symptoms or if symptoms resolve and a rapid test result on day five is negative.

Individual counties can keep stricter rules in place than the state, if local health officials deem it necessary. Currently, LA County requires people exposed to the coronavirus who are unvaccinated or not current with their first booster to quarantine for at least five days after their last exposure to an infected person.

However, County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer reported Wednesday that discussions are underway to relax that rule locally.

“Science has changed,” Ferrer said during a discussion hosted by USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

Only the state-issued quarantine directive has been relaxed. Quarantines are meant to keep people exposed to the virus at home until enough time has passed to see if they test positive or get sick. If a quarantined person ends up testing positive or showing symptoms, they are placed in isolation and the isolation guidelines remain unchanged.

A person is considered exposed to the coronavirus if they share the same indoor airspace — such as a home, clinic waiting room, or airplane — with an infected person during their contagious period for at least 15 minutes in a 24-hour period. time.

An April 6 memo released by the California Department of Public Health, however, suggests that LA County’s current quarantine policy has become outdated. The extremely dominant Omicron variant has a much shorter incubation period than previous versions of the coronavirus that circulated statewide, with symptoms not appearing until two to three days after exposure, on average.

This incubation period is now so short that the moment a newly infected person tells their close contacts that they have been exposed to the coronavirus, the close contacts incubation period is also over “and the most relevant to restrict movement the quarantine has passed,” state officials said.

Most Californians have either been vaccinated or already infected with the coronavirus. With case rates still at relatively lower levels and anti-COVID drugs becoming more available, the risk of serious illness and death or collapse of the hospital system is significantly reduced compared to previous phases of the pandemic, said officials.

“Additionally, the financial, social and societal burden of keeping exposed individuals at home is high, particularly for certain populations, including children and economically vulnerable communities,” the Department of Public Health said. of State.

California’s latest quarantine recommendations are looser than those issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC still recommends that people exposed to the coronavirus, and not up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, stay home and self-quarantine for at least five days to see if they develop signs of illness.

The state memo pointed out that these guidelines could be changed if a more virulent variant emerges, or if there are future outbreaks of a new variant. California also retained stricter quarantine guidelines for people in certain high-risk settings, such as nursing home residents who are not up to date on their vaccines. They are still advised to self-quarantine for at least five days.

The state also says K-12 schools can allow asymptomatic exposed students, regardless of their vaccination status, to stay in school unless they develop symptoms of illness or test positive. But state officials strongly recommend that these students wear a properly fitted mask indoors around other people for at least 10 days after the date of their last exposure.

California’s quarantine guidelines are just the latest pandemic-era measure to be significantly relaxed in recent months as the state emerged from one of the worst waves of COVID-19 yet.

COVID-19 hospitalizations plunged from an Omicron peak of just over 15,400 in mid-January to 1,040 on Tuesday.

New infections have also taken a nose dive. At the height of Omicron, the state was reporting more than 120,000 additional coronavirus cases per day, on average. As of last week, the daily average has been around 2,800, according to state data compiled by The Times.

But lately, cases have started to rebound – a modest reversal, some health officials say, can be attributed to both the widespread easing of indoor mask and vaccine verification mandates as well as the decline of vaccine-induced and natural immunity.

With this time of year marked not only by major holidays, but also by spring break travel and recreation, officials say it remains vital for residents to take steps to protect themselves against the infection.

According to the most recent data from the California Department of Public Health, unvaccinated Californians were almost four times more likely to contract COVID-19, seven times more likely to require hospitalization and 14 times more likely to die from the disease. than their vaccinated and -boosted counterparts.

“While COVID-19 hospitalization rates are near historic lows, we are seeing an increase in COVID-19 transmission in parts of the state,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, Director of public health and state health officer. “This underscores the need for Californians to stay vigilant and protect themselves and their communities by getting vaccinated and boosted. Vaccines continue to provide strong protection against COVID-19.

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