As we transition into the summer, many Americans are also transitioning into another exciting chapter, as those of us who are vaccinated against Covid-19 work to discover what precisely we can do comfortably in terms of socialization, travel, and work. The Centers for Disease Control announced several weeks ago that fully vaccinated individuals could stop wearing masks and social distancing in most situations both inside and outside unless otherwise required by local laws or in certain settings like hospitals and doctors' offices.
This news was met with unbridled joy by many, but as has happened throughout this pandemic, certain questions remain. Among those, what, if anything, these new guidelines mean for Covid testing. I've written about these recommendations before, but in light of the new guidelines, it's worth reviewing them again to reduce any lingering confusion.
For the most part, the recommendations remain the same as they have for several months now, although those recommendations are more and more underscored by the continued accumulation of data showing that fully vaccinated individuals have a low overall risk of both becoming infected with Covid-19 and transmitting it to others if they do become infected. Low risk, however, does not mean no risk, particularly if you're symptomatic, as this likely indicates a higher level of the virus in the body that can be shed and therefore transmitted to others. Because of this persistent possible risk, it remains important to be aware of the need for testing in certain situations.
Over all, these situations break down into two categories: recommendations for asymptomatic vaccinated individuals after exposure to someone infected with Covid-19, and those for symptomatic vaccinated individuals after exposure. If vaccinated people are exposed to someone infected with Covid-19, most of the time they do not have to quarantine, isolate, or even be tested as long as they remain asymptomatic. There are a few exceptions to this, as some employers may require testing after exposure per their own policies, and residents and employees of correctional and detention facilities and homeless shelters should be tested after exposure as well, although they do not have to quarantine. The key here is that these guidelines hold true as long as someone is asymptomatic, so the C.D.C. still recommends monitoring closely for symptoms of Covid-19 for 14 days following exposure.
If at any point during that 14-day period, a vaccinated person becomes symptomatic in a fashion consistent with Covid-19, then they should be tested and should isolate themselves from others. At this point in the pandemic, they should be able to contact their primary care provider to discuss their symptoms, arrange testing or discuss local options for the same, and ensure good follow-up and continued care if they do turn out to have contracted Covid-19. As we've discussed before, it is still possible to contract Covid-19 after vaccination against it, but the risk of serious disease, hospitalization, and death are very, very low. While that is true, it remains important to isolate during a symptomatic Covid-19 infection so that the possibility of spreading the infection remains as low as possible.
Outside of these situations, the C.D.C. does not recommend regular testing, even before or after travel, unless required by local laws or employers. For many of us, testing and being tested had become a near-omnipresent part of life, and this opportunity, we hope, to leave that behind and continue to move forward represents a welcome sign of change.
Joshua Potter, D.O., oversees the Shelter Island office of Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's Meeting House Lane Medical Practice. He specializes in family and neuromusculoskeletal medicine. Opinions expressed in this column are his personal and professional views and not necessarily those of his employer.