CDC Lowers COVID-19 Quarantine Time in Effort to Increase Compliance

Women in quarantine looking out window with cup of coffee in hand

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Key Takeaways

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reduced the length of time a person should quarantine following exposure to a person who has been diagnosed with coronavirus from 14 days to seven to 10 days.
  • The health organization will continue to recommend a 14-day quarantine as the ideal length of time to quarantine following close contact exposure.
  • Experts say the reduced quarantine recommendation is a result of the possible personal, mental, and economic burden individuals may endure as a result of quarantine, therefore leading to a possible lack of compliance. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released alternative recommendations for the length of time a person should quarantine following exposure to a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

According to the new guidelines, close contacts of these individuals should quarantine for seven to 10 days after exposure, which is a decrease from the initially recommended 14 days. These individuals can then end their quarantines after seven days if they receive a negative test, or 10 days if they do not get tested and “no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring,” the CDC noted on its website.

It should be noted, however, that while the CDC has provided these alternative guidelines, they are still continuing to recommend quarantine for 14 days. 

“[The CDC] recognizes that any quarantine shorter than 14 days balances reduced burden against a small possibility of spreading the virus,” the health organization said on its website. “CDC will continue to evaluate new information and update recommendations as needed.”

Why Alternative Guidelines? 

While the CDC will continue to consider 14-day quarantines optimal, the organization recognizes that this quarantine length may prove difficult both physically and mentally for some individuals, as well as lead to financial difficulties. All of these factors, the CDC points out, are reasons that may contribute to a person’s ability to comply with the guidelines.

“Implementing quarantines can also pose additional burdens on public health systems and communities, especially during periods when new infections, and consequently the number of contacts needing to quarantine, is rapidly rising,” the CDC said on its website, adding that quarantine may also inhibit the ability to adequately contact trace if individuals become worried about the possibility of quarantining for a 14-day period.

“The change in guidelines was made in an effort to reduce the economic hardship endured by people who need to go back to work,” Soma Mandal, MD, a board-certified internist at Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, tells Verywell. “The shorter quarantine period will hopefully enhance public compliance.” 

What Does ‘Close Contact’ Mean? 

In October, the CDC expanded its definition of close contact to include someone who has been within six feet of a person who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. Previously, this definition was limited to individuals who had 15 minutes of continuous exposure within six feet of an infected person.

Soma Mandal, MD

The change in guidelines was made in an effort to reduce the economic hardship endured by people who need to go back to work.

— Soma Mandal, MD

Why the 14-Day Quarantine Guideline?

The CDC says the recommended 14-day quarantine after exposure was based on the initial estimates surrounding the COVID-19 incubation period.

“Quarantine’s importance grew after it was evident that persons are able to transmit SARS-CoV-2 before symptoms develop, and that a substantial portion of infected persons (likely somewhere between 20% to 40%) never develop symptomatic illness but can still transmit the virus,” the CDC says on its website. “In this context, quarantine is a critical measure to control transmission.”

What This Means for You

While the pandemic has proven there aren't many guarantees you can rely on during this time, a few things are for certain: Adherence to safety precautions like mask-wearing, maintaining social distance, regular hand-washing, and avoiding large gatherings, especially indoors, continue to be crucial to decreasing COVID-19 infections

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): when to quarantine.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Options to reduce quarantine for contacts of persons with SARS-COV-2 infection using symptom monitoring and diagnostic testing.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Operational considerations for adapting a contact tracing program to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Caroline Shannon Karasik
Caroline Shannon Karasik is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to Verywell, her work has appeared in several publications, including Good Housekeeping, Women's Health and Well+Good.