CDC guidelines on returning to work and school from COVID-19...

CDC guidelines on returning to work and school from COVID-19 haven't changed since 2021. Credit: AP/Patrick Sison

Federal health officials may be ready to eliminate the five-day quarantine recommendation for people who test positive for COVID-19, according to a published report.

That means people with COVID-19 could return to work and school if their symptoms are improving and they have not had a fever for 24 hours without the help of medicine, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Isolation guidelines have not been updated since 2021.

“This doesn't surprise me,” said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology for Northwell Health. “They're starting to treat COVID as a respiratory illness like flu and RSV and those are the recommendations for those other two.”

Farber also said that with many people having had COVID, as well as those who were vaccinated, there's broad immunity in the population.

“We’ve turned the corner from [COVID-19] being a totally novel pathogen — a totally brand new virus that we have no response to — to having some response,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of pediatric infectious disease at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

That means while people might still fall ill from COVID-19, the majority will not be sick enough to be hospitalized or die due to the disease.

“We've transitioned somewhat from the emergency of a brand-new pathogen to the commonality of other respiratory viruses,” Nachman said. “It could be that COVID-19 will have a variant that's far distant to the ones we have circulating now, and it will be as if it's a brand-new pathogen and we'll default back to the stay-home-for-five-days.”

Farber said vulnerable populations, such as those who are immunosuppressed, could be at more risk under these possible changed guidelines.

“Obviously in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living … those are the areas that I think are of concern,” he said. “I'm not sure how you can nuance it or tailor it to take those groups and treat them slightly separately.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations in New York have dropped compared with prior years, following a trend seen across the nation. In January 2022, there were over 12,000 residents hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state, which decreased to 4,300 at the same time in 2023 and about 3,400 last month.

On Long Island, those figures have dipped from 2,254 in early January 2022 to 912 in 2023 and 661 last month. As of Monday, there were 350 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Long Island.

Deaths have also declined. From Dec. 31, 2022, to Jan. 2, 2024, 334 people died of COVID-19 in Nassau County and 323 in Suffolk County, according to the state Department of Health. That’s a drop from 1,006 deaths in Nassau and 995 deaths in Suffolk from Jan. 1, 2022, to Dec. 30, 2022, and 1,214 in Nassau and 1,476 in Suffolk in 2021.

When contacted by Newsday on Tuesday, the CDC press office said there were no updates to COVID guidelines to announce at this time.

“We will continue to make decisions based on the best evidence and science to keep communities healthy and safe,” the agency said in a statement.

The COVID-19 isolation guidelines were last changed in 2021 from 10 days to five days.

Some business groups praised the potential new guidelines, which they said would allow them more flexibility.

“COVID has become part of our daily lives and the federal government has caught up to the reality that it’s common sense that when you are sick, stay home, and when you are well, come to work,” said Matt Cohen, president and CEO of the Long Island Association, a nonprofit business advocacy group. “The updated guidance would allow our region’s small businesses to more efficiently operate while protecting their employees and customers.”

Federal health officials may be ready to eliminate the five-day quarantine recommendation for people who test positive for COVID-19, according to a published report.

That means people with COVID-19 could return to work and school if their symptoms are improving and they have not had a fever for 24 hours without the help of medicine, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Isolation guidelines have not been updated since 2021.

“This doesn't surprise me,” said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology for Northwell Health. “They're starting to treat COVID as a respiratory illness like flu and RSV and those are the recommendations for those other two.”

Farber also said that with many people having had COVID, as well as those who were vaccinated, there's broad immunity in the population.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • People who test positive for COVID-19 may no longer have to isolate for five days, according to a plan reportedly being considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • People would be able to return to work or school if their symptoms resolve and they have been fever-free for 24 hours without the help of medication.

  • Experts say this would put COVID-19 guidance in line with other respiratory diseases such as the flu and RSV.

“We’ve turned the corner from [COVID-19] being a totally novel pathogen — a totally brand new virus that we have no response to — to having some response,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of pediatric infectious disease at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

That means while people might still fall ill from COVID-19, the majority will not be sick enough to be hospitalized or die due to the disease.

“We've transitioned somewhat from the emergency of a brand-new pathogen to the commonality of other respiratory viruses,” Nachman said. “It could be that COVID-19 will have a variant that's far distant to the ones we have circulating now, and it will be as if it's a brand-new pathogen and we'll default back to the stay-home-for-five-days.”

Farber said vulnerable populations, such as those who are immunosuppressed, could be at more risk under these possible changed guidelines.

“Obviously in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living … those are the areas that I think are of concern,” he said. “I'm not sure how you can nuance it or tailor it to take those groups and treat them slightly separately.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations in New York have dropped compared with prior years, following a trend seen across the nation. In January 2022, there were over 12,000 residents hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state, which decreased to 4,300 at the same time in 2023 and about 3,400 last month.

On Long Island, those figures have dipped from 2,254 in early January 2022 to 912 in 2023 and 661 last month. As of Monday, there were 350 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Long Island.

Deaths have also declined. From Dec. 31, 2022, to Jan. 2, 2024, 334 people died of COVID-19 in Nassau County and 323 in Suffolk County, according to the state Department of Health. That’s a drop from 1,006 deaths in Nassau and 995 deaths in Suffolk from Jan. 1, 2022, to Dec. 30, 2022, and 1,214 in Nassau and 1,476 in Suffolk in 2021.

When contacted by Newsday on Tuesday, the CDC press office said there were no updates to COVID guidelines to announce at this time.

“We will continue to make decisions based on the best evidence and science to keep communities healthy and safe,” the agency said in a statement.

The COVID-19 isolation guidelines were last changed in 2021 from 10 days to five days.

Some business groups praised the potential new guidelines, which they said would allow them more flexibility.

“COVID has become part of our daily lives and the federal government has caught up to the reality that it’s common sense that when you are sick, stay home, and when you are well, come to work,” said Matt Cohen, president and CEO of the Long Island Association, a nonprofit business advocacy group. “The updated guidance would allow our region’s small businesses to more efficiently operate while protecting their employees and customers.”

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