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CDC Shortens Length Of Quarantine Aimed At Preventing Spread Of The Coronavirus

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Changing gears now - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is shortening the time people have to quarantine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has details. He's here now.

Hey, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: All right. So what the CDC had been telling us was if you've been exposed to the virus, you got to quarantine for 14 days. What are they saying now?

STEIN: That's right. And the CDC still says 14 days is the safest thing to do. But people now have two shorter options. They can cut that to 10 days as long as they don't develop any symptoms during those 10 days, and they could even cut it in half and quarantine for just a week if they test negative after seven days without developing any symptoms. So it's a pretty big change.

KELLY: Yeah. And why does the CDC think this is a good idea at a time when we know the virus is raging, spreading out of control?

STEIN: Yeah, yeah. So the - you know, the CDC is basically saying, look; cutting the quarantine time does increase the risk. More people might spread the virus. But that increased risk could easily be offset by basically making it more practical for a lot more people to actually do it. You know, some people don't even try to quarantine or just can't because they may, say, you know, not be able to miss two whole weeks of work. Here's what Dr. Henry Walke from the CDC told reporters during a briefing today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HENRY WALKE: We believe that if we can reduce the burden a little bit, accepting that it comes at a small cost, we may get a greater compliance overall with people completing a full quarantine of, let's say, seven days. And when more people complete that - if we get more people on board to complete that overall, that will result in fewer infections.

KELLY: So sounds like an acknowledgment that a lot of people aren't quarantining for 14 days. So...

STEIN: Exactly.

KELLY: ...Maybe if they can get us to do it for a week, that's their shot.

STEIN: Right.

KELLY: But what about travel? A lot of people traveled over Thanksgiving, and now we've got the holidays looming right...

STEIN: Yeah.

KELLY: ...Ahead of us.

STEIN: Yeah, so the CDC is actually just kind of pleading with people not to travel over the holidays. You know what? Many public health experts were horrified when they saw millions of people ignore the CDC's plea to stay home for Thanksgiving. And they're bracing now for what could be a big new surge of infections on top of the frightening surge that's already engulfing the country. So the CDC's kind of doubling down now and appealing to people to just stay home for the holidays. Here's Dr. Cindy Friedman from the CDC.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CINDY FRIEDMAN: We know it's a hard decision. But cases are rising, and the safest thing to do is to postpone holiday travel and stay home.

STEIN: But the CDC says if people do end up traveling, they should get tested one to three days before they leave and again three to five days after they get home and then quarantine for a week after any travel. None of that guarantees they won't spread the virus, but at least it could help. But again, the CDC really thinks everyone should just stay home. The virus is spreading like never before in this country right now. Hospitals are getting overwhelmed. Thousands of people are already dying on some days now. And the worst could easily be coming, especially if lots of people get together for the holidays.

KELLY: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein.

Thank you, Rob.

STEIN: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXMAG'S "ZAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.