New California COVID-19 Guidelines: What to know - The Mercury News
The California Department of Public Health has updated quarantine and isolation guidelines for COVID-19 — and this time, things are getting a bit less restrictive.
With the constantly mutating virus and evolving pandemic research, public health officials say the new shorter guidelines for staying at home announced late Thursday reflect a better balance between community health and a healthy, somewhat normal life.
The CDPH regulations mostly align California with federal rules updated Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new guidelines reduce recommended times to quarantine — staying at home and wearing a mask — for healthy people exposed to those infected from 10 to 5 days.
CDPH also cut recommendations for those infected with COVID-19 to isolate at home from 10 to 5 days. But unlike federal guidance, the CDPH suggests infected people wait for reduced symptoms and have a negative COVID test before leaving isolation.
San Francisco and Santa Cruz County health officials also announced Friday they would follow the new recommendations.
The new guidelines arrive as cases surge from the spread of the omicron variant. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 cases in California are rising at their fastest rate ever. The Bay Area surge has hit hardest in Contra Costa County, where hospitalizations spiked 76% in the last two weeks, according to an analysis by the Bay Area News Group.
The virus remains a serious risk, especially for the unvaccinated: They were five times more likely to get COVID, and roughly 15 times more likely to be hospitalized or die, according to recent data from the CDPH.
Still, health experts say the new health guidelines reflect two years of data and research about the virus — including a sharper understanding of when a person is most likely to infect others.
“We have to realize where we are in the pandemic,” UCSF physician Monica Gandhi said.
High vaccination rates in the Bay Area, better research and experience, and good public health practices have made a difference, she said. “Overall, we’re in much better shape.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Q: Why change the guidelines now, when omicron cases are surging?
A: Public health officials believe the recommendations strike a better balance between managing health risks and allowing people to lead more normal lives. Two years of research has shown the virus typically spreads during a five-day window.
“The omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses. These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”
Some health policy experts also think the unvaccinated should be subject to longer periods of isolation if they catch COVID.
The new recommendations are best suited for vaccinated members of the community, Gandhi said. But she noted that when the CDC in May tried to put out separate mask guidance for the vaxxed and the un-vaxxed, “it was a complete and bloody mess.”
The new policy avoids another potential political flashpoint in the deadly and long-running pandemic.
Q: I’ve tested positive for COVID-19. What are the new policies?
A: New guidelines call for staying at home for at least five days, as opposed to 10 days, regardless of vaccination status. After five days, isolation can end if symptoms are lessening and an antigen or other test comes back negative. Wear a tight-fitting mask around others for 10 days — less than the two weeks previously recommended.
Without a negative test, state health officials urge isolation for 10 days. If a fever persists, continue to say away from friends, family and co-workers until symptoms subside.
Gandhi said the five-day rule is an important step in acknowledging COVID research — most cases are contagious up to three days prior to symptoms appearing, and usually two days after the congestion, coughs or fever show up.
Q: What if you’re exposed to someone with COVID?
A: Health officials still want unvaccinated people and those needing a booster shot to quarantine for at least five days, take a test on day five and get a negative result before leaving quarantine. It’s also recommended to wear a mask around others for 10 days. If you test positive, go into isolation.
If you’re vaccinated and boosted, no quarantine is needed, but test on day five and wear a mask around others for 10 days, especially indoors.
Q: What about masks?
A: Stepping up your mask game is a good idea with the spread of omicron, doctors say. A fabric mask is better than no mask, and a fitted medical mask is even better. The best protection is offered by N95 and KN95 masks.
The protection is only as good as the fit — wear it tightly over your mouth and nose. The guidance also got the thumbs-up from Bob Wachter, chairman of the UCSF Department of Medicine.
Q: Where can I get tested?
A: If you think you’re been exposed, you should get tested as soon as possible. It can help limit the spread of the virus, and allow you to get to treatment more quickly if the infection becomes severe, officials say.
But finding at-home tests or booking a free examination has been a challenge during the holidays. Check with your local pharmacies for supplies of at-home antigen tests. Bay Area counties have also set up clinics for COVID testing in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco.