The effectiveness of quarantining for 14 days to halt the spread of COVID-19 is up for further debate after The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on Wednesday (Dec. 2), recommended a shortened quarantine period for people exposed to COVID-19, from 14 to 10 or 7 days.
U.S. health officials said people can end their quarantine time after 10 days if no symptoms are reported. Additionally, individuals can end their quarantine time sooner, after seven days, if they test negative and show no symptoms of the virus, said the CDC.
"I think this is a smart move and it will help us,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, a member of Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, told CNN this week.
The new guidance was based on "extensive" modelling by CDC and other agencies that showed the risk is low, Dr. John Brooks, chief medical officer for CDC's COVID-10 response, said Wednesday.
5, 7, 10 or 14 days?
The U.S. joins other countries around the world, such as Switzerland and Germany, that have reduced their quarantine times to 10 days.
Some passengers arriving in the United Kingdom will be able to significantly reduce their quarantine time, starting Dec. 15, from 14 to 5 days if they can present a negative COVID-19 test result on the fifth day following arrival.
Canada, meanwhile, is sticking with 14 days when it comes to quarantining and recently extended its mandatory self-isolation order for travellers entering Canada until at least Jan. 21, 2021.
"Protecting the health and safety of Canadians is my most important responsibility. We have introduced a number of policies to keep Canadians safe but must remain flexible and adapt to the evolving COVID-19 situation, while keeping your health as our top priority," stated Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on Nov. 29.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, it was believed by scientists that individuals could transmit COVID-19 to others for up to 14 days.
But new studies, such as Air Canada’s research with McMaster University at Toronto Pearson International Airport, are questioning if two weeks of self-isolation is, in fact, necessary.
Air Canada, McMaster Health Labs and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority studied more than 8,600 participants recruited from Sept. 3 to Oct. 2, 2020.
Volunteers performed COVID-19 self-tests with a home kit on day seven and day 14 of their quarantine.
Interim results showed that 95 per cent of COVID-19 positive cases were found within the first seven days.
The results also showed that 99 per cent of study participants tested negative for COVID-19 with 1 per cent testing positive.
"Interim results from the border study support a test and reduced quarantine approach such as that being piloted in Calgary," said Dr. Vivek Goel, co-principal investigator of the study, professor at the University of Toronto and a former CEO of Public Health Ontario. "Testing upon arrival with a follow-up test to catch later positive results could provide a reasonable path forward to help keep borders and the economy open while maintaining public safety."
The Alberta experiment
Dr. Goel is, of course, referring to Alberta’s COVID-19 pilot project, which aims to reduce quarantine times for travellers through rapid testing at Coutts land border crossing in southern Alberta and at Calgary International Airport.
Under Alberta’s program, a traveller’s 14-day self-isolation period could be shortened to nearly 48 hours if the traveller receives a negative COVID-19 test result.
The project, which launched in Alberta on Nov. 2, is the type of initiative that Premier Doug Ford would like to see in Ontario.
“We're working with the federal government right now at Toronto Pearson to reduce the downtime once you come back," Ford told journalists on Wednesday. "You have to quarantine for 14-days, we want to knock that down."
Health Canada is still recommending a 14-day quarantine period for Canadians that may have been exposed to COVID-19.
But some medical experts suggest that a shortened isolation time could be beneficial.
"It would be super important for the sake of incentivizing people to actually quarantine after exposure," Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University, told CBC News. "…there's a lot of different things that could theoretically open up — getting health-care workers back to work, getting kids back to school — a lot of ways where this could ease the burden of potential exposure in society."
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