DC Health updates coronavirus guidance to include negative test result before ending isolation

DC Health released updated coronavirus isolation and quarantine guidelines Monday night, calling for a negative test before ending isolation and detailing what it means to be up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccinations in a school setting.

The changes, which city officials alluded to in a call with council members last week, are in some ways stricter than the guidelines that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended.

In its instructions for people who test positive for the coronavirus, DC Health says the minimum isolation period is five full days. Unlike the CDC, though, DC Health says if a negative antigen test is completed toward the end of the five-day period, and the patient is fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-lowering medications, such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, isolation can be ended on day 6.

The CDC doesn’t call for a negative antigen test to end isolation, but the updated D.C. guidelines call for the negative test result and states the person who tests positive to wear a well-fitting mask around others through day 10 because “a negative COVID-19 antigen test does not guarantee that you are not infectious to others, so continuing to wear a mask is essential.”

People with severe or critical COVID-19 or who are immunocompromised should isolate for at least 10 days, DC Health said.

The updated DC Health guidance also calls for a five-day isolation period and negative test for people who test positive without symptoms.

Fully vaccinated people, which the CDC considers anyone who has received two shots, don’t need to quarantine if exposed unless they develop symptoms.

The updated DC Health policies also include new guidelines for schools.

In a school setting, according to city guidelines, anyone 18 and older is considered up to date on vaccinations if they have received a booster shot. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser previously required all adults working in schools to be vaccinated unless a medical or religious exemption is granted.

For students ages 5-17, fully vaccinated still means completing a primary two-dose vaccine series.

In school settings, independent of vaccination status, the minimum isolation period is seven days, DC Health said.

The updated guidelines also include information for implementing test-to-stay programs, the practice that allows unvaccinated students who are exposed to the virus to remain in class if they get tested regularly and remain negative. D.C. Public Schools recently launched a test-to-stay pilot program for pre-K students, and the practice is being used in some Fairfax County, Virginia, schools.

In order to be eligible to participate in a D.C. test-to-stay program, exposure must have occurred at school and involved two people who were properly masked. Students and staff participating in test-to-stay programs, DC Health said, should to be tested at minimum two times in the seven-day period after their last exposure, including: immediately (defined as within 24 hours of their exposure notification) and again five to seven days after exposure.

A source familiar with the school system’s testing programs said the Office of the State Superintendent of Education typically reviews DC Health guidance before making its recommendations for local education agencies.

All of the new guidance is available online.


More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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