In updated guidance released on Wednesday, the American College Health Association advised that students who contract Covid-19 should be required to test out of isolation using a rapid antigen test after five days — an extra step from what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

As the Omicron variant drives up cases on campus, the health association wrote, college leaders have been confused about changing guidance, particularly on how long infected people should quarantine. The CDC shortened the recommended isolation period from 10 days to five days in December. Following that change, many colleges and universities reached out to the ACHA for clarification on how to manage Covid-19 cases on their campuses.

While some institutions, particularly those with high vaccination rates, embraced the new protocol, saying it would allow students to spend less time in isolation and more time in the classroom, others told the health association they were wary of releasing students too early, said Anita Barkin, co-chair of the group’s Covid-19 Task Force.

“Clearly, there’s no one path here,” Barkin said. “Schools are making decisions based on their resources.”


For colleges embracing the five-day-isolation protocol outlined by the CDC, the health association recommends using a rapid antigen test to determine if it’s safe for a student to be around others. Student who test positive should be tested again on Day 7 or 8, the ACHA advises.

“The term ‘asymptomatic’ does not always mean ‘not contagious,’” the association wrote.

The guidance comes at a time when colleges are struggling with isolation capacity. Northeastern University, in Boston, ended its on-campus isolation housing program last week, instructing all students to self-isolate in dormitories and apartments alongside their roommates. Harvard University also announced that it would end university-provided isolation housing, instead requiring students to self-isolate and conduct contract-tracing themselves, The Harvard Crimson reported.

For colleges that cannot test or that choose not to do testing as a condition of release, students should leave isolation only if they are asymptomatic, or no longer have symptoms, including being fever-free for 24 hours, according to the ACHA. Institutions with limited isolation space should ask students to isolate at home.

“Omicron is different than what we’ve dealt with in the past, in that the high transmissibility may make it difficult for schools to test at the levels that they were testing in the past,” Barkin said.


The health association reiterated its support of vaccination and booster-shot requirements for all eligible students, faculty, and staff, and suggested that colleges distribute and promote the use of N95, KN95, or surgical masks, noting that they provide the best protection against transmission.

“What has become clear,” the group said, “is that there is no one-size-fits-all plan to address the current situation.”