A growing number of countries are trimming the length of time people potentially exposed to the coronavirus need to self-quarantine to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19. Their reasoning: Shorter spells might help manage the pandemic by encouraging greater compliance.
Some disease and public health experts offer cautious support to the idea, saying that although data is patchy, such a trade-off might make sense, especially where citizens’ weariness or inability to comply with more burdensome restrictions are complicating efforts to beat back a resurgence. Cases in Europe are accelerating fast following a summer lull, and in the U.S. recently topped a new daily record of more than 80,000.
Others, though, including the World Health Organization, say it is a gamble that could backfire and will likely result in some additional cases slipping through. And gaps in knowledge about how exactly the virus behaves make it difficult to determine the best abbreviated cutoff date or strategy.
“There’s a trade-off because you might miss some people, but you could get so many more people to adhere to the quarantine requirements that the gains would far outweigh the people you might miss,” said Mark Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which represents state health departments in the U.S.
France in September cut to seven days from 14 the length of time those who have been in contact with a known case must quarantine at home. The country’s health authority concluded that citizens were reluctant to stay home for two weeks and said the risk of spreading the contagion lessens over time.