The CDC has new COVID guidelines: Here's what you need to know


Four years and 25 days after the first confirmed case of COVID in Wisconsin, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new guidance about what to do if you test positive. 

What changed?

For the general public, the CDC no longer recommends that you isolate for five days if you test positive for COVID. Instead, stay home if you’re sick and return to school and work once you’re feeling better and fever-free for at least 24 hours. Once you resume normal activities, take additional precautions for the next five days to avoid getting others sick, such as wearing a well-fitting mask and keeping a distance from others. This change matches the advice for other respiratory illnesses, like the flu.

Why did it change?

The CDC hopes the new guidance creates a unified approach, making the recommendations easier to follow and more likely to be adopted. 

CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen says this change also “reflects the progress we have made in protecting against severe illness from COVID-19,” for example, we haven’t seen a major new variant since Omicron hit in the winter of 2021, due to widespread existing immunity from both vaccination and infection.

During a news briefing on Friday she also said, “folks often don’t know what virus they have when they first get sick, so this will help them know what to do regardless.”

In addition to staying home when you’re sick, the CDC is encouraging these core prevention strategies:

  • Staying up to date with vaccination to protect people against serious illness, hospitalization, and death. This includes flu, COVID-19, and RSV if eligible.
  • Practicing good hygiene by covering coughs and sneezes, washing your hands often, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces.
  • Taking steps for cleaner air, such as bringing in more fresh outside air, purifying indoor air, or gathering outdoors.

Enhanced prevention strategies, like masking and testing, are also helpful in certain situations. For example, when there are a lot of people getting sick or if you’re at a greater risk of getting seriously sick.

Adults 65+ should get another COVID vaccine this spring

Last week, the CDC also recommended that people who are at a higher risk for more severe complications of COVID, especially adults ages 65 and older, should get another COVID vaccine this spring. 

Over the past four years, we have seen cases of COVID rise in summer and in winter. While COVID levels tend to be higher in the winter than in the summer, it is not as seasonal as flu and RSV where we see almost no disease in the summer. At this point we still see a fair number of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID in the summer.

The CDC says getting an extra dose within the next few months would offer the best protection for a summer peak.

The spring vaccine is the same as the fall vaccine. It targets just one strain, the recent variant of the omicron strain, called XBB.1.5. 

We offer free COVID vaccination to certain groups of people:

  • People who do not have health insurance.
  • People whose health insurance does not cover vaccinations.
  • Children (6 months to 18 years) who are on BadgerCare, who are eligible for BadgerCare, or who are Native American or Alaskan Native.

The bottom line is: stay home if you're sick

The CDC’s new advice applies to anyone dealing with any respiratory illness. If you’re coughing and sneezing and feverish—whether it’s COVID, the flu, or any other virus—it’s best to stay home and keep to yourself, if you can. 

When you’re feeling better (i.e. symptoms are gone and you’re fever free without medication for 24+ hours) you can still take additional precautions for five days (i.e. wearing a mask around your grandma).

This content is free for use with credit to Public Health Madison & Dane County .

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