COVID is surging. What is the latest CDC quarantine, mask guidance?

Guidance related to isolating and mask wearing has changed over the past three years as medical professionals learned more about the virus.

COVID-19 test samples
Ted S. Warren/AP

The COVID-19 public health emergency may officially be over, but the virus has not gone away. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 17,000 people were hospitalized with the virus in the last week, a 15% increase from the week before.

While the numbers may be concerning for many, they are still far below what hospitals were seeing during the height of the pandemic. The virus peaked in January 2022, when there were more than 150,000 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per week.

Severe outcomes from COVID, especially among the most vulnerable, still happen. More than 300 people died from the virus in the last week of August, according to the CDC. 

Medical professionals acknowledge, however, that the U.S. is more prepared to deal with the virus now. In fact, a study released by the CDC at the beginning of 2023 shows an estimated 96% of people in the country have antibodies protecting them from the virus, either from vaccination or previous infection. 

For added protection, the Food and Drug Administration and CDC are expected to sign off on an updated booster by the end of next week. 

What is the latest CDC quarantine guidance?

Guidance related to isolating and mask wearing has changed over the past three years as medical professionals learned more about the virus. 

The CDC currently recommends that people who test positive for the virus stay home for five days and isolate from others within their house. Those who can't isolate from others within their home are encouraged to wear a high-quality mask, such as an N-95. 

The CDC says people can feel safe coming out of isolation after five days if they no longer have symptoms. For those with lingering symptoms after five days, they can come out of isolation once they are fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication), the CDC says. 

Those who are experiencing shortness of breath or having difficulty breathing should be in isolation for 10 days. 

When should you wear a mask?

At times during the pandemic, people were required to wear masks regardless of whether they had COVID-19. 

That's no longer the case. The CDC has issued recommendations for certain groups, but they are not mandates. 

The agency says people with the virus should wear a mask for 10 days from when they took their COVID-19 test. 

People who are at risk of severe illness may also want to consider wearing a mask when hospitalizations from COVID-19 are medium or high. 

The CDC has a dashboard on its website that allows people to check COVID-19 hospitalization levels in their area. 

The agency notes that people may choose to wear a mask at any time if they feel more comfortable. 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated that the pandemic is over. However, while the COVID-19 public health emergency has ended, the World Health Organization says the pandemic is ongoing and remains a global threat.