New federal guidelines that state some fully vaccinated people no longer need to quarantine after COVID-19 exposure could be the first sign of light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Connecticut health experts say.
“Life after the vaccine is going to look very different in the weeks ahead,” said Keith Grant, senior system director of infection prevention at Hartford HealthCare.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced changes this week to its guidance on the COVID-19 vaccines. One of the most notable updates is the change to the quarantine policy.
“Fully vaccinated persons who meet criteria will no longer be required to quarantine following an exposure to someone with COVID-19,” the guidance states.
To meet the criteria, a person must have received both doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with the last dose having been within three months of the exposure. The person must also have remained asymptomatic following the exposure.
If people don’t meet those standards, they must observe the standard quarantine protocol, which, in most cases, involves staying home for up to 14 days following the exposure, avoiding others and monitoring for symptoms.
“Although the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from vaccinated persons to others is still uncertain, vaccination has been demonstrated to prevent symptomatic COVID-19; symptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission is thought to have a greater role in transmission than purely asymptomatic transmission,” the new guidelines state. “Additionally, individual and societal benefits of avoiding unnecessary quarantine may outweigh the potential but unknown risk of transmission, and facilitate the direction of public health resources to persons at highest risk for transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to others.”
The new standards also do not apply to vaccinated inpatients and residents in health care settings, who also should continue to observe the previous quarantine protocol, the CDC advises. However, exposed health care personnel would not be required to quarantine outside of work.
Those who are vaccinated should continue to observe masking, social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention methods, according to the CDC. Fully vaccinated people who are exposed to COVID-19 should still monitor for symptoms, even if they are not quarantining, the CDC states.
Even with these caveats, some experts said the change to the quarantine recommendations is something of a breakthrough.
“I think that’s certainly welcome,” said Dr. Zane Saul, chief of infectious disease at Bridgeport Hospital.
Grant said the change could be the start of a new beginning. But he and Saul said their optimism about the vaccine and the quarantine guidelines, was cautious.
For instance, Grant said Hartford HealthCare doesn’t yet plan to implement the new quarantine guidelines.
“We’re still looking at data about the variants” of COVID-19 that are circulating, both globally and in Connecticut, he said.
Saul said there’s still a lot of uncertainty about the vaccines and the level of protection they provide.
“The question that still remains is ‘Can you still carry the illness and pass it on?’ ” he said.