This week in COVID: CDC loosens quarantine guidelines, FDA recommends 3 home tests, new data on long COVID

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced updated COVID-19 guidelines Thursday, easing back quarantine recommendations for people who aren’t current with their vaccines.

Like fully vaccinated Americans, those who haven’t received their primary series or recommended boosters now do not need to quarantine themselves if they come into close contact with an infected person.

The agency also said people who test positive for the virus but are asymptomatic or see symptoms improve quickly can isolate for a shorter period, instead of the previously recommended five days.

The CDC continues to say people who test positive should isolate from others for at least five days, regardless of vaccination status.

The updated recommendations come as nearly 40% of the country report high COVID-19 community levels, according to the CDC map. A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows hospitals in 19 states reported more COVID patients than a week earlier, while hospitals in 20 states had more patients in intensive care beds.

It’s “a positive sign that advances in vaccines and treatments have significantly lowered the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from the disease,” said Dr. Daniel P. McQuillen, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “However, with much of the country experiencing higher than 20% transmission rates, we cannot let our guard down.”

Also in the news:

► President Joe Biden finally left isolation Sunday after testing negative for COVID-19 twice. Biden had isolated inside the White House since July 30 after testing positive from a rebound case.

► About 97% of schools across the country are not requiring masks as kids gear up to return to school, according to data from school tracker Burbio.

► Germany’s health minister said European Union drug regulators are expected to meet Sept. 1 to consider a vaccine that would protect against the original virus and the omicron variant.

► Masks will once again be required for visitors inside all Great Smoky Mountains National Park buildings due to the high transmission of COVID-19, according to the park's website.

📘What we're reading: After a two-year hiatus during the pandemic, the flu may be back this season – and with a vengeance. Read more here.

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Want to be sure you don’t have COVID? FDA says you'll need to pass 3 home tests

If you're taking an at-home COVID-19 test and want to be confident you're clear of the virus, you'll need not just one or two but three tests with negative results over five days.

That's the new recommendation issued Thursday by the Food and Drug Administration. It follows a new study that concluded using three home COVID tests with 48 hours between tests for those without symptoms delivers a higher degree of accuracy than two tests over three days.

The recommendation for a third test is directed at those who fear they may have been exposed to the virus or want to leave no doubt about their negative status. Even with that stipulation, Thursday's recommendation signals a significant shift in a system where home tests are mostly sold and distributed in two-test kits.

Researchers said the higher sensitivity of using three tests over five days could catch more cases and inform infected people without symptoms to avoid contact with others, limiting spread.

– Ken Alltucker, USA TODAY

COVID patients need more health care services 6 months after infection, study shows

A new study highlights COVID patients' continued need for health care services six months after initial infection.

Researchers at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California looked at nearly 130,000 patients across the country who tested positive for COVID-19 and another 130,000 who tested negative between March and November 2020.

They found having COVID-19 was associated with a 4% increase in use of health care services six months after infection, according to the study published Friday in JAMA Network Open.

“A substantial amount of health care utilization occurs in the six months following the acute stage of SARS-CoV-2 infection, which highlights the potential for COVID-19 to exert an ongoing demand on health care organizations,” said lead author Sara Tartof, an epidemiologist at the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation.

The most common conditions that required care were lingering COVID-19 symptoms, alopecia, bronchitis, pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis and difficulty breathing. The most common conditions among COVID-positive children were irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis, and ear, nose, and throat disorders.

North Korea claims disputed victory over COVID-19

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered an easing of preventive measures just three months after the country first acknowledged an outbreak, the country's news agency said Thursday.

North Korea had suggested in July that its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with objects carried by balloons launched from South Korea – a claim that appeared to be an attempt to blame its rival.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, expressed strong regret over North Korea’s “extremely disrespectful and threatening comments” based on “ridiculous claims.”

The country's statements about its outbreak are widely believed to be manipulated to help Kim Jong Un maintain absolute authority. But experts believe the victory announcement signals his intention to move on to other priorities.

Contributing: Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID this week: CDC quarantine guidelines, FDA update on home testing