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CDC drops five-day isolation guidelines

CDC COVID-19 guidance now mirrors other respiratory illnesses

The Washington State Department of Health updates a dashboard weekly for respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19, flu and RSV. On March 6 the most prevalent COVID-19 variant statewide is J.N1. // Image courtesy of Department of Health Bellingham Wash., March 8, 2024

On March 1 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped the five-day COVID-19 isolation guidelines. Now when people test positive for COVID-19 they can resume everyday activities without isolating if their symptoms are improving and they are fever-free for at least 24 hours, according to new CDC guidelines. 

On March 8, 2024, the United States Postal Service stopped sending free COVID-19 tests, according to the USPS website which distributes the tests. 

Despite the CDC recommendations changing, as of March 6, the Washington State Department of Health has not indicated that they are changing their COVID-19 guidelines.

"Amidst the evolving landscape of COVID-19 guidance, our commitment to protecting public health remains unwavering,” said Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, chief science officer for the DOH. “We are examining the updated CDC recommendations to ensure our response is grounded in the latest science and trends in respiratory virus activity. Together, let's stay vigilant and protect those in our communities at greatest risk of harm from COVID-19."

Marie Duckworth, public information officer with Whatcom County Health and Community Services, said that they will follow the guidelines recommended by the DOH. 

“These changes are coming from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is a federal agency, and Whatcom County Health and Community Services is a local county government agency,” she said. “We follow the guidance of the CDC and the Washington State Department of Health, but we are a separate local government agency.”

David Hansen is the director of the Student Health Center at Western Washington University. 

Hansen said that Western will be following the latest guidance from the CDC dropping the previous recommendation of a five-day isolation period. Western will no longer offer free COVID-19 tests, after their last tests expired on Dec. 27, 2023, he said.  

 “COVID-19 tests are now treated like any other in-house tests provided at the Student Health Center,” he said. “A nominal fee for these tests is charged to the student’s account.” 

The changes follow the previous announcement that COVID-19 vaccines would no longer be required at Western starting June 12, 2023, which The Front covered in a March 2023 article.As well as the CDC ending the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Declaration on May 11, 2023. 

Regarding additional COVID-19 mitigation measures, Hansen said that Western no longer will perform contact tracing for COVID-19 infections. 

 “We will continue to monitor for all communicable diseases and implement appropriate public health measures as needed,” he said. 

Despite the change, Hansen said that Western still encourages students to stay up to date on vaccines, stay home when they are sick and wear masks as needed. 

Those interested in getting vaccinated can visit the DOH vaccine locator, as well as visit the Whatcom County Community Health website or call 360-778-6100 for more information. For information on respiratory illnesses, visit the DOH dashboard.

Joshua Kornfeld

Joshua Kornfeld (he/him) is the city news editor for The Front this quarter. He is a senior majoring in journalism who enjoys photography, live music and exploring new coffee shops.
You can reach him at

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