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New COVID Quarantine Rules: What? Why?

The CDC revised guidance for people who have had close contact for at least 15 minutes with someone recently diagnosed with COVID. First a bit of background. Since March, the CDC has recommended that everyone with close exposure quarantine themselves for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus to others. As researchers have learned more about the infection, we now understand that for those who do not become sick by the 7th day after exposure, the likelihood of them transmitting the infection to others is still 11%. By the 10th day after exposure, the potential is down to 1.4%. The CDC’s new guidance decreases the length of quarantine to 10 days after exposure as long as the person has not gotten sick. There is an alternative quarantine of 7 days if someone also has a negative COVID test 1-2 days before that and stays healthy through day 7. Having a negative PCR test, which usually takes 2-4 days to come back from the lab, reduces the risk of a person transmitting the virus from 1 in 9 down to 1 in 25. Rapid tests are not nearly as accurate in detecting infections prior to the onset of symptoms. As a result, a rapid test along with no symptoms by day 7, leaves a 1 in 12 to 1 in 18 chance that a person is still infectious to others. Let’s summarize the risk of still being infectious to others: Day 7 with no test 1 in 9 (11%) Day 7 with rapid test 1 in 15 (6-7%) Day 7 with PCR test 1 in 25 (4%) Day 10 without test 1 in 70 (1.4%) Day 14 without test <1 in 100 (<1%) So why is quarantining important? Until vaccines are widely available, COVID will almost certainly continue to spread in large numbers. Currently over 2,000 Marylanders are newly diagnosed with COVID every day. Over 1,500 people are currently hospitalized across the state, 364 of whom are in ICUs. Over the past day, 48 Marylanders died as a result of COVID infections. Even more concerning is that hospitals are already reaching capacity, and we are about to be hit by the start of flu season. As hospitals reach saturation, people with heart attacks, appendicitis, severe injuries from motor vehicle crashes, and children with severe asthma attacks will face delays in care that can lead to permanent disability or death. In other words, when hospitals fill up with COVID patients, it jeopardizes everyone’s safety. For the next few months, the best way to prevent runaway spread of infection is to quarantine as soon as you realize you’ve been exposed to someone with an active COVID infection. The Calvert County Health Department recommends that everyone voluntarily quarantine for 10 days after the last day they were in contact with someone infected with COVID. A 1 in 15 risk of transmission with a rapid test prior to day 7 will lead to unnecessary spread of virus and further strain our local hospital. Even a 1 in 25 risk is very worrisome as we move into flu season. For the sake of 3 additional days, we hope that each person considers the importance of doing a bit more to keep everyone in our community safer. We’ll comment more fully on the new COVID vaccines once they clear FDA authorization. We are still awaiting the release of full safety data before we make recommendations. With that said, preliminary data look very encouraging, and it’s likely that safe and effective vaccines will begin to arrive for frontline healthcare workers later this month. However, vaccine production is a precise process and it will take months until there are sufficient supplies for the general public. As a result, through the winter, the best protection against COVID is for each of us to help protect one another. If you know you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID or you receive a call from one of our nurses performing contact tracing, please help us keep Calvert safer by quarantining for 10 days. If at any point you develop symptoms of illness, contact your primary care provider or the urgent care to arrange testing. And if you haven’t received your flu shot yet, please protect yourself by getting a vaccination this week. This simple act further reduces the chances of filling our hospital with patients infected with preventable disease. Let’s all pull together as we approach the holiday season and keep Calvert Healthy.

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