covid subvariants

As BA.4 and BA.5 COVID-19 Subvariants Spread, Will CDC Change Quarantine Guidance?

BA.4 and BA.5 are the most contagious COVID-19 subvariants yet, according to health officials

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Considered the most contagious COVID-19 subvariants to date, BA.4 and BA.5 have fueled surges in case counts across the country, including in the Midwest, where both have become predominant strains.

According to Chicago's top doctor, the Midwest is ahead of the Northeast in recording BA.4 and BA.5 cases, though a combination of the two have become the majority nationwide. The aforementioned subvariants made up about 52% of all new COVID cases in the U.S. for the week ending June 25, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prior to the fall and winter, when people typically spend more time indoors and the risk of transmission increases, health officials say a crucial step related to vaccines must be taken to provide protection.

The next round of COVID booster shots should be modified to target both BA.4 and BA.5, the Food and Drug Administration announced this week.

Since BA.4 and BA.5 are the most contagious yet, has the CDC changed quarantine guidelines to specifically address infections driven by both subvariants? Furthermore, should you take any different actions if believed to have contracted one of the latest strains, compared to a COVID infection driven by a different subvariant?

Here's what to know:

The CDC typically doesn't update quarantine or isolation guidance when a new COVID variant or subvariant surfaces and hasn't issued new quarantine recommendations in months, since March 30.

A major change went into effect a few months earlier, when the CDC shortened the quarantine period for most people from 10 days to five days.

If vaccinated, the CDC doesn't recommend you quarantine unless symptoms appear. If you develop symptoms, getting tested is encouraged. Otherwise, the CDC does not explicitly recommend testing following an exposure for vaccinated patients.

Wearing a mask is recommended for 10 days after the exposure, even for those who are fully vaccinated.

Those who are unvaccinated or aren't up-to-date on COVID booster shots, should quarantine at home for at least five days. If you have to be around other individuals in your household, you should wear a mask, according to the health agency.

Even if you don’t develop symptoms, you should get tested at least five days after becoming a close contact of someone with COVID. Per CDC guidelines, the day you are exposed to COVID is considered Day 0, and the first full day after that exposure is Day 1.  

According to the CDC, you should get tested at least 5 days after your last close contact and make sure your result is negative and you remain without symptoms before traveling. If you don’t get tested, delay travel until 10 days after your last close contact with a person with COVID-19. If you must travel before the 10 days are completed, wear a well-fitting mask when you are around others for the entire duration of travel during the 10 days. If you are unable to wear a mask, you should not travel during the 10 days.

Additionally, health officials suggest if you come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should avoid people who are have weakened immune systems or are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 as well as nursing homes and other high-risk settings, until after at least 10 days.

If you had a confirmed case of COVID within the last 90 days, no quarantine is recommended, regardless of variant or subvariant. The CDC advises that you continue to monitor for symptoms for 10 days. If you develop symptoms, you should get tested and isolate until results return.

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