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N.H. adopts new CDC guidelines on COVID quarantine and isolation. What does that look like?

Coronavirus tests in a box
The guidance for the general public, business and schools does not apply to healthcare settings or places like universities or prisons.

Thestate of New Hampshire is adopting new CDC guidance that shortens the isolation and quarantine periods for people who test positive for COVID-19 or who have been exposed to the coronavirus.

Under the updated New Hampshire guidance, people who test positive for COVID-19 or are exposed to a person in their household who tests positive should quarantine or isolate for five days, rather than the previously recommended 10-day period.

No quarantine is required for those who are exposed to COVID but who are up to date on all their COVID-19 shots. That includes people over the age of 18 who have received a full round of COVID vaccines as well as a booster shot, if eligible. Testing on day five is still recommended for all exposed people regardless of vaccination status.

People can leave isolation or quarantine before the previously required 10 days, as long as they wear a mask in public, according to the new guidance.

The guidance is not a mandate, so it’s ultimately up to businesses, individuals, and schools to decide exactly how they will follow it.

The state’s decision to adopt the new CDC guidance could mean changes in schools’ efforts to combat COVID-19. But after a call with state health officials on Wednesday, there was still confusion among school leaders and school nurses about how the new definition of “up to date” vaccination and shortened quarantine times would play out.

The state’s top epidemiologist, Benjamin Chan, said schools should implement the new guidance. But Gov. Chris Sununu stressed at a press conference Thursday that school districts have the final say.

“If schools want to implement those flexibilities, add additional mitigation strategies, more often than not they are absolutely able and encouraged to,” Sununu said.

The new guidance follows evidence that shows the virus is most easily spread in the early days of infection, according to the CDC.

It also comes as the more contagious omicron variant presents a threat to the “critical functions of society” which need to be “open and operating,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in an interview with NPR this week.

The guidance for the general public, businesses and schools does not apply to healthcare settings, colleges and universities, or prisons.

The latest guidance for healthcare facilities also shortens the COVID-19 quarantine period for healthcare workers who contract the virus. Those who are asymptomatic can return to work after seven days, with a negative test.

The guidance also gives healthcare employers discretion to cut that period further in certain circumstances, such as if an employer is under a so-called “contingency plan” or in crisis.

Androscoggin Valley Hospital is following the new guidance, according to Brian O’Hearn, the hospital's chief nursing officer. Staff who have tested positive, he said, are tending to “have mild illness” which means they are able to get back to work faster.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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