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YKHC issues new isolation and quarantine recommendations that differ slightly from CDC guidance

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation hosted a mass COVID-19 testing event for the entire community of Bethel, Alaska on November 7, 2020.
Katie Basile
YKHC says you can stop isolating after five days if you receive a negative test result on the fifth day. Pictured is the YKHC testing tent in Bethel on Nov. 7, 2020.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) has new recommendations for isolating after infection and quarantining after exposure to COVID-19. These differ slightly from the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At the end of 2021, the CDC updated its guidance for isolation after a COVID-19 infection. It said that you can isolate for just five days after infection. And if you're asymptomatic or if your symptoms are resolving, you can go back out in public as long as you wear a mask for the next five days. The CDC shortened its isolation requirement because it said that most people aren’t contagious after five days.

There’s been some criticism of the shortened isolation, largely because the CDC is not requiring a negative test result to end isolation early. Among those skeptical of the new CDC policy is YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges.

“Makes me nervous, I have to say, having people get out of isolation at day five,” Hodges said.

So YKHC has issued its own recommendation saying that you can stop isolating after five days if you get a negative COVID-19 test result on the fifth day.

YKHC public health official Brian Lefferts says that many people can still be contagious after five days. He said that the CDC likely did not include a testing requirement because of shortages in testing availability in other parts of the nation.

“But the good news is they're available here. So YKHC is recommending a test at the end of day five if you want to end isolation early,” Lefferts said.

You can get a free, at-home test from Bethel Public Health Nursing. YKHC’s testing center across the street from the hospital in Bethel is open Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Or you can walk into the Bethel hospital every weekday to receive a test.

The CDC and YKHC have also updated guidance on quarantining, which is staying away from people after you’ve been exposed to COVID-19. On quarantining recommendations, the CDC and YKHC are in sync.

“It used to be that you didn't have to quarantine if you were fully vaccinated,” Lefferts said. “Now we're saying those individuals really should quarantine unless they've been boosted.”

Lefferts said that the effectiveness of the vaccine decreases over time. YKHC actually ran a study with the CDC on how effective vaccines were over time specifically in the Y-K Delta. According to that study, Lefferts said that the effectiveness of just two doses of a Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine at preventing infection dropped from over 90% at the beginning of 2021 down to 37% by the end of the year. But he said that boosters brought that number back up.

“A third dose of the mRNA vaccine increased vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic infection to 92%. So moved it from 37% to 92%, which is amazing,” Lefferts said.

Lefferts added that mRNA vaccines remained over 90% effective at preventing hospitalization and death even without a booster.

YKHC also says that if someone in your household has COVID-19, then you should quarantine unless you can stay isolated away from that person, even if you’re boosted. Here’s a link to YKHC’s full recommendations on isolating and quarantining.

The CDC estimates that 95% of new COVID-19 cases in the United States are the omicron variant. Scientists believe that omicron is more contagious than previous variants. Hodges said that it’s unknown whether omicron has already reached the Y-K Delta since the state’s genetic sequencing lab is backed up.

“The best way, I think, that we'll know when we have omicron, or at least a high probability of omicron, is if we see a really sharp increase in cases,” Hodges said.

YKHC announced 70 new cases of COVID-19 in the region on Jan. 4, the highest single-day total in nearly two months. Hodges said that could be because YKHC’s testing tent was closed during the holidays, creating a backlog of people who needed to get tested. But if the high number of cases becomes a trend, that could mean the more infectious omicron variant is spreading in the Y-K Delta.

Greg Kim is a news reporter for KYUK covering environment, health, education, public safety, culture and subsistence. He's covered everything from Newtok's relocation due to climate change-fueled erosion to the Bethel chicken massacre of 2020.
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