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  • March 2024
  • 3 minutes

The CDC’s New Respiratory Guidelines: Five Key Questions

  • Dr. Daniel D. Zimmerman
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In Brief
RGA’s Chief Science Advisor Dr. Daniel Zimmerman shares his thoughts on updated CDC COVID-19 guidelines and their implications for insurers.

1. What are the main points of the new guidelines and how are they different from previous versions?

The new guidelines reflect a “unified, practical” approach. The main difference from prior recommendations is that rather than addressing COVID-19 specifically, the guidelines apply more broadly to multiple respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, which are all transmitted similarly. When someone possibly has a respiratory virus, the advice is to stay home and away from others. Once symptoms are improving and there has been no fever for at least 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication), one can then resume normal activities. However, extra precautions are recommended for five additional days, including taking steps for cleaner air, practicing good hygiene, wearing a mask, maintaining physical distancing, and testing, when it is possible to do so. 

2. Why did the CDC release new guidelines now?

Clearly, COVID-19 is still an important public health threat. However, according to the CDC, it is no longer the emergency that it once was and its health impacts are closer now to other respiratory viruses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The CDC also noted that the effectiveness of protective tools, such as vaccines and treatments, and the high level of population immunity are leading to fewer hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19. This led the CDC to issue general “respiratory virus guidance,” rather than additional virus-specific guidance. Notably, states and countries which had shortened isolation times have not seen an increase in hospitalization or death rates due to COVID-19. 

3. Is the COVID-19 pandemic over and has the world entered an endemic stage?

On May 11, 2023, the U.S. federal public health emergency for COVID-19 ended. Nonetheless, in 2023 alone approximately 75,000 people died as a result of COVID-19 in the U.S. While the trends continue to improve, ongoing transmission of COVID-19 and a certain level of risk continues. If this represents the new “stable state,” it could meet the definition of endemic: the regular and ongoing occurrence of a disease within an area, community, or population. As time passes, the endemic picture will become clearer. 

4. What are experts saying regarding the new guidelines?

In a recent publication, Dr. Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), indicated he was not surprised by the CDC’s change in guidelines. He further stated that “we are at an inflection point in the pandemic, where we are trying to move to a relationship with the virus that is very different than the first three years… the CDC guidelines are a step in the right direction as we continue to deal with COVID. We have to be aware of what we can do.” 

5. How might the new guidelines impact insurers?

Insurers have been keenly following public health recommendations and developments since the early days of the pandemic. It is in the interest of the public and insurers to mitigate the risk of all respiratory viruses as much as possible. However, the new guidelines reflect and align with the general view that the world has moved beyond COVID-19 in many ways. Thus, while some might describe the pandemic as “forgotten, but not gone,” insurers will need to continue monitoring for ongoing transmission and assess the degree of persistent and endemic COVID-19 mortality and morbidity. Insurers have become very adept at this process based on the learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to proactively apply it moving forward. 

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Meet the Authors & Experts

Dan Zimmerman
Dr. Daniel D. Zimmerman
Senior Vice President, Chief Science Advisor


1. Background for CDC’s Updated Respiratory Virus Guidance 
2. CDC updates and simplifies respiratory virus recommendations 
3. Respiratory Virus Guidance 
4. CDC announces new respiratory virus guidance, ends COVID isolation policy