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CDC to shorten length of quarantine for those exposed to COVID-19

A shorter quarantine period is likely to include increased testing.
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/ Source: NBC News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is finalizing plans to shorten the recommended length of quarantine for those exposed to COVID-19.

The CDC currently recommends that individuals quarantine for 14 days after being exposed to people with the coronavirus. The two-week length is based on how long scientists believe it can take the virus to incubate in the body.

"CDC is always reviewing its guidance and recommendations in the light of new understandings of the virus that causes COVID-19, and will announce such changes when appropriate," a spokesperson for the agency told NBC News Tuesday. The updated approach will likely incorporate testing.

It's a potential change the CDC has been considering for weeks.

CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said during an October briefing that the agency was considering shortening the length of quarantine by up to a week.

At the time, Redfield said researchers were looking at whether "you can use testing during the quarantine to determine if you can shorten the quarantine to seven or 10 days." Without testing, he said, you could miss a percentage of infectious cases.

"Obviously we don’t want people to be quarantined 14 days unnecessarily," Redfield said.

Dr. Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC, agreed that it may be necessary to make quarantines more palatable to the general public.

"We need to optimize quarantine," said Frieden, who currently serves as president of the global public health initiative, Resolve to Save Lives. "We know that the biggest risk is from days four to seven. After that, the risk is lower" for transmission, he said.

The CDC gave an indication of the changing quarantine strategy on Nov. 20 with its updated international travel guidance. The agency advised international travelers to "get tested three to five days after travel and stay home for seven days after travel."

If the test is negative, "stay home for the full seven days." Without a test, travelers should stay home for 14 days.

During an unrelated briefing Tuesday, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Brett Giroir, referred to a "preponderance of evidence" that quarantine, complemented by a test, could be shortened from 14 days.

This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.