By Alan Gionet

(CBS4) — Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment moved quickly Monday to echo new guidelines from the CDC that allow people to emerge more rapidly from quarantine or isolation after COVID exposure or a positive test.

The updated guidance applies to health care workers and general population. It means a reduction in the recommended time in isolation from 10 days to five after being exposed to COVID-19.

(credit: CBS)

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The state released a statement saying, “CDC now recommends quarantine for five days followed by mask use for an additional five days for people who are unvaccinated, or are more than six months out from their second Pfizer or Moderna dose (or more than two months after the J&J vaccine) and have not yet received a third dose (or second dose if receiving J&J). Alternatively, for those persons for whom a five days quarantine is not feasible, wearing a well-fitting mask around others for ten days is acceptable.”

The guidance for those known to be infected has also eased, but differently. “For those in the general population with COVID-19 from 10 to five days, if asymptomatic on day five, followed by an additional five days wearing a mask when around others. This change is based on data showing that the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs early in the course of illness.”

There’s no doubt there’s been pressure to ease on the guidelines with early indications in South Africa and Great Britain data that vaccine effectiveness is keeping those vaccinated from getting ill. With two doses of mRNA vaccine, effectiveness is approximately 35%. Those with a booster dose have 75% effectiveness.

Infections with the omicron variant appear to be coming earlier however. “If someone’s most contagious within the first three days isolating for only five days is absolutely reasonable,” said Dr. Sara Gore, an infectious diseases doctor at Medical Center of Aurora. However she noted patients are still having severe disease. “With unvaccinated patients, of course, we’re seeing people still getting very, very sick ending up in critical care and dying from delta.”

Many people never know what variant they have. Testing does not often create a clear indication of which variant people have notes Dr. Carrie Horn, chief medical officer at National Jewish Health. “It depends on which type of PCR you use, if you can get what they call that ‘S’ marker that shows up for some variants, but does not show up for Omicron. But it has to be that specific type of PCR test. And not everyone does those. So I do think we are not fully aware of exactly how much Omicron is around in terms of our positive tests.”

Dr. Gore noted, “It’s not clear to me, if these changes were are based off of understanding of the new omicron variant or whether they’re based off of patterns of contagiousness that we’re seeing with other variants and the delta as well.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment says the omicron variant is becoming the prevalent virus circulating. In further support of vaccination, it noted Monday that those who have, “Recently completed their primary vaccination series (within six months of their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or within two months of their J&J dose) or who have received their third dose (or second dose if receiving J&J) do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure. Regardless of vaccination status, CDC recommends testing on day 5 after exposure or immediately if symptoms develop.”

The new guidance also extends to asymptomatic health care providers who have received all recommended vaccines. They no longer need to be excluded from work after a higher risk exposure. Only residential care staff need follow other current CDPHE guidance, “when applicable,” says the CDPHE.

Alan Gionet