Change to Quarantine Guidelines

by Mary Heath, MD MPH and Mariel Gingrich, MPH, Public Health Officers - University of the South

As the pandemic continues to evolve and spread, and as vaccine protection is becoming more widespread, public health guidelines are also evolving. On Feb. 10, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that individuals who have been fully vaccinated are no longer required to quarantine for 14 days if they are exposed to a positive individual, as long as the following guidelines are met. First, “fully vaccinated” means two weeks have passed following your second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or more than two weeks have passed following a single-dose vaccine. Second, you must be within three months of receiving the final dose of vaccine in the series. Third, you must remain asymptomatic following the COVID-19 exposure.

After you have been vaccinated, one of the most important things to keep track of is your official CDC COVID-19 vaccination card. The state vaccine registry or TennIIS will also have a record of when you were vaccinated, but not all health care providers have access to this database. If you are identified as a close contact of a positive individual after receiving your vaccination, the date of your final vaccine dose will be important for determining whether you need to quarantine or not.

Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine protects against developing severe disease, but further research is required to understand how effective the COVID vaccines will be against the new SARS-CoV-2 variants. Therefore, vaccinated individuals should continue to mask, socially distance, avoid poorly ventilated areas, cover coughs and sneezes, and to wash hands often during the day. It is encouraging to see that the seven-day average of new cases in Tennessee has dramatically dropped from 11,410 new cases on Dec. 16, to 1,624 new cases on Feb. 11, yet exponential spread of SARS-CoV-2 due to the two new variants is still a possibility. You should still be tested if you have COVID-like symptoms (fever, cough, headache, fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting, or loss of taste of smell/taste) even if you have been vaccinated. PCR testing (rather than rapid antigen testing) will identify if one of the new SARS-CoV-2 variants is present. Remember, receiving a COVID-19 vaccination has no effect on the accuracy of COVID testing results.

Vaccination is still being offered primarily through local health departments or hospitals, but soon pharmacy locations will be administering COVID-19 vaccines as well. In our immediate area Bennett’s Pharmacy (1201 Dinah Shore Blvd., Winchester), Rock Creek Pharmacy (9971 SR 56, Coalmont), Jasper Drugs (17 Courthouse Square, Jasper), and The Drug Store at South Pittsburg (335 South Cedar Ave., South Pittsburg) will be offering the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost to community members as they become eligible based on age or risk. There is still a large portion of the community over 70 years of age that needs to be vaccinated, and K-12 teachers and childcare workers will soon be eligible to be vaccinated. Visit <www.covid19.tn.gov> for more information about vaccine phases and eligibility in Tennessee.

Currently, only 10 percent of the Tennessee state population over 16 years of age has been vaccinated, so there is still a lot of work to be done. Please do your part to get a COVID-19 vaccination when you become eligible. Vaccination is one of the best public health tools that we have to end the COVID-19 pandemic.