First thing’s first: the CDC and Washington State Department of Health still recommend a 14-day quarantine after potential exposure to Covid-19, if you can swing it. But in an effort to address the mental health and economic hardships that come with a longer quarantine—it's tough to be away from people, and a job, for that long—the state’s DOH recently adopted new CDC guidelines that allow for a shorter period of isolation, provided people take the necessary precautions.
The CDC recommends a quarantine for anyone who has been in close contact with someone infected by Covid-19. In addition, Washington State recommends a quarantine after international or interstate travel. New guidance permits a couple different lengths of quarantine, depending on whether or not you get tested.
If you haven’t been tested, you can now officially end your quarantine after day 10, but not without precautions. After the tenth day—and only if you’ve consistently shown no symptoms—the risk of transmitting the virus to someone else is between 1 and 10 percent, the CDC says.
In a recent study, the CDC found that testing at the beginning of quarantine didn’t do a whole lot to reduce the risk of post-quarantine transmission (since Covid may take a while to set in and the test might not catch it), but if you get tested on day five or six of quarantine, you’ll be free to go out after day seven. Still, this option is riskier: The likelihood of transmission in this case is about 5 to 12 percent.
Once you’ve completed the quarantine, and even with a negative test, the CDC says you should still carefully monitor your symptoms for 14 days (though we should probably always be monitoring our symptoms, right?).
Why would the CDC make this move while the number of Covid-19 cases skyrockets? Basically, they’re hoping for increased compliance. If a shorter quarantine is less burdensome, more people might actually see it through. That’s the idea, at least.
The safest option is, of course, to opt for the two-week isolation. And comparatively speaking, this isn’t all that bad. The word quarantine itself comes from the Venetian quarantina, meaning forty—the number of days 14th century sailors had to isolate to ensure they didn’t infect coastal towns with the Black Death.
Like any and all pandemic guidance, this news is “subject to change.”