Credit: Courtesy of DPH

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened its COVID-19 guidelines Thursday, freeing schools and businesses from forcing students and workers to quarantine at home if they have been exposed to the virus.

The changes mean that anyone exposed, vaccinated or unvaccinated, can wear a mask for 10 days, instead of quarantining at home. Previously, the CDC advised that people who were unvaccinated or hadn’t received their booster shots should quarantine for five days after exposure. The quarantine could end at that point after day five if no symptoms appear. 

The new guidelines are being announced just as school is about to start in Connecticut, though in many other states classes have already begun. Connecticut reported 34 COVID-19 deaths over the past week, the highest total for a seven-day period since mid-May.

Connecticut’s positivity rate for the week that ended Thursday was 12.07%.

Cases have increased in recent weeks amid the spread of the BA.5 subvariant and currently stand at or near their highest levels in several months. More than 81.6% of the cases are the new BA.5 subvairant in Connecticut.

As of Thursday, Connecticut has 325 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, down 27 from a week prior.

“We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools – like vaccination, boosters, and treatments – to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19,” Dr. Greta Massetti, chief of the field epidemiology and prevention branch at the CDC, said in a statement.

“This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives,” she said.

The CDC also recommended two negative at-home tests 48 hours apart before going out in public again without a mask.

The new guidance recommends people take their first test on day six of isolation if they’re fever-free, with a second rapid test 48 hours later.

If both tests are negative, people can leave their homes and not use a mask around others.

The CDC also said it was no longer recommending schools use test-to-stay, which allowed students who were close contacts of those who tested positive for COVID to continue to attend in-person classes as long as they remain asymptomatic and continue to test negative.

Massetti said that test-to-stay was no longer necessary because unvaccinated and vaccinated people no longer are advised to quarantine.

Connecticut instituted a screen-to-stay program last November before it lifted school masking mandates. It meant testing was no longer required after an in-school exposure, just screening for symptoms. 

State officials say Connecticut schools will continue to hand out testing kits to students as needed.

Read more about that guidance from the state Education Department.