As plans are made for how to spend New Year's Eve, the US has cut isolation requirements for those infected by COVID-19 from 10 days to five, and shortened the time that close contacts should quarantine.

The American CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) made the announcement as thousands of flights and holiday plans were canceled as those impacted by the virus were forced to isolate.

The CDC's new recommendations: isolation for five days

The new recommendations from the CDC state that a person infected with COVID-19 should go into isolation for five days. At the end of that period, if they are recovered, they can circulate again, but a mask must be worn indoors and outdoors for five days. If the person still shows symptoms after five days, they need to remain indoors until they feel better and wear a mask everywhere for five days after their symptoms end.  

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Passengers on the AirTrain to JFK airport over the holiday period social distance and comply with mask mandate © Getty Images

Prior to the new CDC announcement, those who had received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine were exempt from quarantine, if they were a close contact of someone who tested positive. However, under these new guidelines, the CDC has said anyone who is a close contact of a confirmed COVID case, can skip quarantine only if they have received a booster vaccine shot. They must however wear a mask in both indoor and outdoor settings for 10 days.  

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CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement: "CDC's updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses. These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives. Prevention is our best option: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission, and take a test before you gather."

A masked American Airlines staffer waits for customers in the airport
Entry to the US requires a negative PCR test taken within one day of departure  © AFP / Getty Images

With the onset of the Omicron variant, the US introduced more rigorous testing requirements for tourists and returning Americans in early December. All travelers aged over two years, regardless of vaccination status or nationality, entering the US need to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of travel. Proof from a licensed health care provider of having recovered from COVID-19 in the 90 days prior to travel is also accepted.  

What does 'fully vaccinated' mean for entry to the US?

Currently, a person must have received their vaccine at least two weeks (14 days) prior to entry into the United States. This applies to single-dose and second doses of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine. At this time, there is no requirement for a booster vaccine to gain entry to the US.  In addition to the testing measure, masking requirements are in place for airplanes, rail travel and public transportation until March 18, 2022. 

For more information on COVID-19 and travel, check out Lonely Planet's Health Hub.

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This article was first published Dec 1, 2021 and updated Dec 28, 2021.

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