When the CDC updated its quarantine guidelines at the end of December, it was met with plenty of confusion. And the head-scratching has only continued.
Pfizer dangled the promise of a vaccine for kids under five, only to pull the rug out from parents at the 11th hour. Washington lifted its vaccine checks and masking requirements in March, but some local establishments kept theirs in place to protect workers. A federal judge later repealed a mask mandate for public transportation, resulting in travelers de-masking mid-flight. Even Fauci had to walk back some of his comments about the end of the pandemic.
In short, it's hard to keep up. Consider this your guide on the latest Covid need-to-knows from the CDC and our local public health orgs.
Is the pandemic over yet?
In an interview with PBS NewsHour, Fauci made some striking comments: "We are not in the pandemic phase in this country." So this whole thing is done, right?
Not exactly. In a later interview with the Washington Post, he clarified that he meant we're out of the "full-blown" pandemic phase and are in a transition to an endemic phase. When we truly get to the other side of the Covid tunnel depends on continued vaccination and public health efforts.
How many Americans have had Covid anyway?
In newly released data from February, the CDC reported that nearly 60 percent of people living in the United States have had Covid, including about 75 percent of children. This was largely fueled by winter's omicron surge.
What's more, with the more mild variants, public health officials seem to have shifted their goals from preventing Covid infections at all to simply preventing severe illness from an infection. The White House's new Covid coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha went so far as to say stopping new Covid cases is "not even a policy goal."
What does King County's "medium" status mean?
We went from numbered phases to the CDC's three-tiered Covid-19 community levels. In late April, King County announced we had failed up into the "medium" phase, meaning we've had over 200 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period. Great.
In the most basic terms, this means there's a higher risk of catching Covid in the community. Public Health—Seattle and King County has said it's not issuing any additional requirements or restrictions...for now.
Where do you need to wear a mask?
You can now board a Metro bus or saunter through Sea-Tac with your chin dangling out, but here in Washington, masks are still required in health care, long-term care, and correctional facilities. Individual businesses and school districts can also determine if they want to require masks.
Public Health does encourage those who are immunocompromised, feel sick, or are unvaccinated to continue wearing a mask in indoor public settings. And, yes, the CDC says to keep masking on transportation too.
What are the latest CDC quarantine guidelines?
In the simplest of terms, the CDC slashed its previous 10-day quarantine period to five days for those who have been exposed but not yet tested positive. And if you're as vaccinated as you can be and aren't experiencing symptoms, you don't even need to quarantine in the first place after an exposure. That applies if you:
- Are 18 or older and have received your full vaccination series and a booster
- Are 5–17 and have received your full vaccination series
- Tested positive for Covid within the last 90 days
The change prompted many public health entities, like the Washington State Department of Health, to follow suit. After all, if the "CDC says," it's fine....
The CDC says you can stop isolating if “the vibes are off”— Luke Mones (@LukeMones) December 28, 2021
Who can get Covid booster shots?
To kick off 2022, the CDC announced several changes to booster eligibility, shortening the waiting period for extra shots and expanding eligibility.
Now anyone 5 or older can get their first booster, and those over 50 are eligible for two boosters. Those 12 and up who are immunocompromised and folks who've only received Johnson and Johnson shots can also get a second booster shot.
What does it mean to be "fully vaccinated" now?
The CDC still considers "fully vaccinated" individuals as those who are two weeks out from their second Pfizer or Moderna jab or their lone J&J. They take pains to note, however, that this doesn't mean "best protection."
"Fully vaccinated" is not to be confused with "up to date" on vaccination. The latter category includes having received your recommended boosters.
Where are we on Covid vaccines for kids?
In short, still the same place we were back in November 2021. Pfizer did its whole FDA approval swerve with its shot for the littlest set, and only just announced it would submit data to the FDA. Meanwhile, Moderna announced it will ask the FDA to authorize its vaccine for children as young as six months. For now, the FDA has a key June 15 date set for its advisory panel to review both vaccines. Until then, we wait.