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Citing decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations, CDC adjusts guidance

March 1, 2024

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated recommendations for people infected with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza.  

The new guidance is intended for community settings and is not applicable to health care settings. It includes sections with additional considerations for people at higher risk of severe illness from respiratory viruses, including young children. 

The guidance no longer recommends a minimum isolation period of five days for COVID-19.  

CDC officials say the updates are being made now because the U.S. is seeing far fewer hospitalizations and deaths associated with COVID-19 and because more tools, such as vaccinations, are available to prevent and treat flu, COVID and RSV. In 2021, more than 450,000 deaths among Americans were associated with COVID-19. That number dropped 83% in 2023 to about 75,000 deaths.  

When people get sick with a respiratory virus, the updated guidance recommends they stay home and away from others.  

For people with COVID-19 or influenza, particularly those who are at higher risk of severe illness, treatment is available and can lessen symptoms and lower the risk. The recommendations suggest that those with a respiratory virus can return to normal activities when they meet both of these criteria for at least 24 hours: 1) symptoms are improving overall and 2) fever has been gone without use of a fever-reducing medication.  

Once people resume normal activities, they are encouraged to use additional strategies for the next five days to curb disease spread, such as taking more steps for cleaner air, enhancing hygiene practices, wearing a well-fitting mask, keeping a distance from others and/or getting tested for respiratory viruses when individuals might be around others indoors. Even when feeling better, people may be able to spread the virus, the guidance notes. If symptoms worsen after initial improvement, people should stay home until they feel better Enhanced precautions are especially important to protect those most at risk for severe illness, including those over 65 years of age and people with weakened immune systems.  

The new guidance brings a unified approach to addressing risks from a range of common viral illnesses, which can cause significant health impacts and strain on hospitals and health care workers.  

“Today’s announcement reflects the progress we have made in protecting against severe illness from COVID-19,” CDC Director Mandy K. Cohen, M.D., M.P.H., said in a statement. “However, we still must use the commonsense solutions we know work to protect ourselves and others from serious illness from respiratory viruses — this includes vaccination, treatment and staying home when we get sick.”  

The CDC continues to recommend: 

  • Staying up to date with vaccination to protect people against serious illness, hospitalization and death. This includes flu, COVID-19 and RSV, if eligible.  
  • Practicing good hygiene by covering coughs and sneezes, washing or sanitizing hands often and cleaning frequently touched surfaces.  
  • Taking steps for cleaner air, such as breathing in more fresh outside air, purifying indoor air or gathering outdoors.  

States and countries that have adjusted recommended isolation times have not seen increased hospitalizations or deaths related to COVID-19, CDC officials said.  

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