NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s top public health agency relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines Thursday, dropping the recommendation that Americans quarantine themselves if they come into close contact with an infected person.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said people no longer need to stay at least 6 feet away from others.
The changes, which come more than 2 1/2 years after the start of the pandemic, are driven by a recognition that an estimated 95% of Americans 16 and older have acquired some level of immunity, either from being vaccinated or infected, agency officials said.
“The current conditions of this pandemic are very different from those of the last two years,” said the CDC’s Greta Massetti, an author of the guidelines.
Many places around the country long ago abandoned social distancing and other once-common precautions, but some of the changes could be particularly important for schools, which resume classes this month in many parts of the country.
Perhaps the biggest education-related change is the end of the recommendation that schools do routine daily testing, although that practice can be reinstated in certain situations during a surge in infections, officials said.
The CDC also dropped a “test-to-stay” recommendation, which said students exposed to COVID-19 could regularly test — instead of quarantining at home — to keep attending school. With no quarantine recommendation anymore, the testing option disappeared too.
Masks continue to be recommended only in areas where community transmission is deemed high, or if a person is considered at high risk of severe illness.
School districts across the U.S. have scaled back their COVID-19 precautions in recent weeks even before the latest guidance was issued. Some have promised a return to pre-pandemic schooling.
Masks will be optional in most districts when classes resume this fall, and some of the nation’s largest districts have dialed back or eliminated COVID-19 testing requirements.