Technicians assist people in their cars on Tuesday at a...

Technicians assist people in their cars on Tuesday at a drive-thru Northwell Health COVID-19 testing site at Christopher Morley Park in Roslyn. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

As the omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads rapidly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has loosened its quarantine guidelines for those with no symptoms.

Based on research about when the variant is generally transmitted to others, the CDC now recommends a shorter number of days in isolation if you tested positive and are asymptomatic.

Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of infectious disease at Huntington Hospital, estimates the majority of new cases across New York are the omicron variant, but finds the symptoms to be milder among the vaccinated.

"It’s quite more transmissible than the older delta variant," he said. "However, people seem to have less severe symptoms. Specifically, the vaccinated folks have mild symptoms or sometimes even asymptomatic."

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said she’s seeing more children infected with COVID-19 than with previous variants.

What should you do if you have symptoms or test positive? Here's the latest guidance on when to isolate and quarantine.

What should I do if I'm feeling sick?

If you’re sick and have symptoms, the CDC and New York Health Department recommend getting tested, isolating until you receive results, and seeking medical help as needed.

Where can I get tested?

Many pharmacies, urgent care centers and medical offices offer tests. Some locations require making an appointment ahead of time.

Testing centers are strained due to the number of people seeking tests, prompting New York to unveil new sites. About 3 million free test kits will be distributed through school districts and online in New York by the end of the week, officials said.

Popp recommends performing an at-home test if available, but urges caution in following the instructions carefully and accurately.

Some testing options include:

  • New sites on Long Island open this week at IBEW Local 25 in Hauppauge (Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Kennedy Memorial Park in Hempstead (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
  • Northwell Health has two drive-thru sites: across from Peconic Medical Center in Riverhead and at Christopher Morley Park in Roslyn.
  • New York State has a searchable tool you can use to find a test site near you.

What should I do if I test positive?

The CDC reports that early research shows transmission generally occurs early in the course of the virus, typically one to two days before symptoms appear and two to three days afterward.

As a result, it is now recommended that those who get the virus but who are asymptomatic cut quarantine time in half — from 10 days to five. The CDC still recommends wearing a mask for five additional days when around others.

However, after the five days, those with symptoms that are not resolving should continue to stay home, and then begin the five-day mask-wearing period when the symptoms resolve.

Nachman encourages people to gauge how they feel on day five. If they’re feeling sick and don’t feel like they can return to work or school, don’t force it, she said.

How long should I quarantine if I’ve been exposed?

If you've been exposed to someone with the coronavirus, you're vaccinated and boosted and asymptomatic, the CDC says quarantining isn’t necessary. You should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure and be tested for the virus on the fifth day after exposure.

If you've been exposed, and are unvaccinated or haven't yet gotten a booster shot, the CDC recommends quarantining for five days. After five days of quarantine, the CDC recommends wearing a mask for five days when around others. Get tested for the virus on the fifth day after exposure.

How effective are vaccines?

The CDC reports that research from scientists in South Africa and the United Kingdom shows with two doses of an mRNA vaccine, the effectiveness against infection is approximately 35%. With a booster, that increases to 75%.

Both Popp and Nachman urged those who aren’t vaccinated or boosted to schedule their shots.

"All my patients that I have in the intensive care unit right now with COVID are unvaccinated," Popp said. "I do have patients with COVID on the regular floors who are a mix of unvaccinated and vaccinated, but overall the unvaccinated folks are having a more severe illness than the vaccinated."

Will cases continue to increase?

Both Nachman and Popp expect cases to increase, from the rapid spread of the omicron variant paired with expanded access to testing. Nachman is hopeful that in mid- to late January, cases will begin to dip, but she expects cases to grow more in the meantime.

"I think the next few weeks will be critical for all of us," she said.

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