CALIFORNIA — Top U.S. health officials dramatically altered isolation restrictions that have been in place for two years on Monday. Those who catch the coronavirus will now only need to isolate for five days instead of 10, with similarly shortened quarantine times for those who are exposed.
California will align with the new guidance set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Monday afternoon.
Federal officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.
The new rules come as a recent winter surge in COVID-19 cases was spurred by the omicron variant, which is expected to cause milder illnesses than earlier variations of the coronavirus.
While omicron seems to pose less of a danger, the variant is highly contagious. Isolation restrictions have been scaled back to prevent businesses from closing and to keep airlines and hospitals from buckling.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told The Associated on Monday that the U.S. is about to see a huge influx in omicron cases.
"Not all of those cases are going to be severe. In fact many are going to be asymptomatic,” she said. “We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science."
Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden's top medical advisor, called the variant "extraordinarily contagious" on Sunday.
Previously, state and federal agencies called on health care workers to stay out of work for 10 days if they test positive. Last week, the agency new recommendations said workers could go back to work after seven days. Now, the CDC is changing the isolation and quarantine guidance for the general public to be even less stringent.
For those who test positive, the clock starts the day the result is received. At the end of five days, if no symptoms are present, Californians can return to normal activities but must wear a mask everywhere for at least five more days.
The change is mainly aimed at those who are asymptomatic. People with symptoms during isolation, or who develop symptoms during quarantine, are encouraged to stay home and avoid others until symptoms are resolved.
As for quarantine rules, the five-day period starts the day someone is alerted of the exposure. Only those who have received a booster shot can skip quarantine if they wear masks in all settings for at least 10 days.
The CDC’s isolation and quarantine guidance has confused the public, and the new recommendations are “happening at a time when more people are testing positive for the first time and looking for guidance,” Lindsay Wiley, an American University public health law expert, told The Associated Press.
In California, the testing positivity rate has increased rapidly, jumping from 3 percent to 5.4 percent in one week. Numbers rose following the holiday week, during which coronavirus tests became more difficult for Californians to access.
A shortage of COVID-19 tests has reemerged as the omicron variant spread rapidly through the U.S.
On the dive in testing availability, Fauci told host Jonathan Karl on ABC’s "This Week" that the nation has "obviously got to do better."
In California, 6,288 testing sites have been established, and 90 percent of the population lives within a 30-minute driving distance of a site, according to Newsom's office.
Since August, the state has bought more than 12 million over-the-counter rapid antigen tests. But those tests have been flying off shelves at pharmacies across the nation's most populous state.
Walgreens confirmed that they've experienced "unprecedented demands" over the holiday season. The company expects to increase its supply in the coming weeks. The company also placed a four-item limit on at-home tests to help maintain inventory.
"With heightened demand for COVID vaccines, testing and other services, in addition to the busy holiday season, our pharmacy and store team members are working incredibly hard every day. We ask that our customers please show patience and understanding as together, we continue to navigate the evolving pandemic environment," said John Standley, Walgreens President, in a statement.
Biden acknowledged Monday that the nation's supply was not sufficient.
"For over-the-counter at-home test, as I said, there were none when we took office. None. Now we have eight on the market. And just three days ago another test was cleared. We went from no over the counter tests in January to 46 million in October, 100 million in November, and almost 200 million in December. But it's not enough. It's clearly not enough," Biden told reporters Monday. "If I had — we'd known, we would have gone harder and quicker if we could have.
"Because of steps we have been taking to increase the number of authorized tests, we’re now able to purchase 500 million at-home rapid tests to be sent to the American people for free when they request it," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.