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The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has changed the agency's recommendation for isolation and quarantine for those who either test positive for COVID or who have had close contact with someone with the disease, reducing the isolation or quarantine time from 10 to five days, under certain conditions.  With the omicron variant on the rise, the move should help businesses and other organizations avoid some of the personnel shortages they have suffered due to employees, sometimes symptom free, being isolated or quarantined and unable to work for 10 days.  

According to a CDC press release last week, the science available today shows that people with COVID are most infectious in the first few days after contracting the disease, so shortening the isolation and quarantine times for people who are symptom free makes sense.  The change also reflects the higher numbers of vaccinated people in the country.  "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," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a press release.

The CDC now recommends anyone testing positive should remain home in isolation for five days and wear a mask around others for an additional five days, provided they  either develop no symptoms or that symptoms have gone away at the end of the first five days at home.  If the person has a fever, he or she should remain home until the fever is gone.

Until recently, the CDC recommended that fully-vaccinated people who had close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID would not have to quarantine, unless they developed symptoms.  (The CDC defines close contact as being within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more during a 24 hour period.)  In the wake of the rapid spread of the omicron variant, that recommendation has been modified.  Now, CDC officials say that for 10 days, people who have had a booster shot -- or who completed the two initial doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines within the last six months or the single Johnson and Johnson dose within the last two months -- should wear a mask when they are around other people.  If symptoms develop, they should stay home until the symptoms pass.

The unvaccinated who have close contact with an infected person -- or those who have not had a booster shot and received the Pfizer or Moderna shots more than six months ago or the Johnson and Johnson shot more than two months ago -- should stay home for five days.  If no symptoms develop, they can go out but should wear a mask around other people for an additional five days.  If someone cannot stay home the first five days, they must wear a mask for the full 10 days.

People in all these categories should get tested after the first five days, if possible.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the omicron variant now accounts for 90 percent of cases in Texas.  Though the number of cases of the highly-contagious variant is increasing around the world, health officials say early indications are that the variant produces a less severe illness than the delta variant, though people with omicron are ending up in the hospital and dying.

The CDC and DSHS continue to urge everyone eligible to be fully vaccinated  against COVID, including a booster shot, as the best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death.  Though the vaccinations are less effective against omicron, the booster shot elevates immunity almost to their original level of effectiveness.

In Moore County, 45.79 percent of people age five and above have been fully  vaccinated, while 59.30 percent have had at least one dose.  In the state as a whole, the figures are 60.88 percent fully vaccinated and 71.41 percent having received one dose.

As of December 30, the latest figures available, there were 106 active cases in Moore County.  The active case number is an estimate based on the number of confirmed and probable cases.  The number of deaths was at 93, the last one having taken place on December 25.  The hospitalization rate for Trauma Service Area A was 19.39 percent as of December 28.  Hospitals in the Panhandle remain under stress from both the increase in numbers and staffing shortages.    

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