TRENTON — New Jersey health officials on Monday made one final, public appeal to residents to get tested for COVID-19 before gathering with family and other loved ones for Christmas.

But following that advice, if a test should come back positive, how soon would someone be able to make up for missing the holiday this weekend? And would a New Year's Eve celebration still be in play?

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said her department recently updated guidance on quarantine lengths for both schools and the general public, though not for healthcare settings.

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For unvaccinated people, Persichilli said, the "optimal" quarantine is still 14 days after coming into close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

But she added, in alignment with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that shortening that two-week period has the potential to "reduce the burden on individuals and increase compliance."

New Jersey's new rules make no specific exceptions for those who have completed their initial vaccine series or gotten a booster shot, with the state's COVID-19 dashboard saying only that "fully vaccinated people may not need to quarantine" if they test negative or show no symptoms.

In schools, the health commissioner said close contacts of positive cases could get the opportunity to return to the classroom much sooner than they have been.

Notably, the use of the regional risk-level metric known as the CALI index as a determinant of quarantine length has been discontinued.

"The revision allows for shortened timeframes for students and staff to end quarantine after Day 7, with a negative COVID-19 test result collected between five and seven days of quarantine," Persichilli said.

Alternatively, if a child or adult takes no test for COVID but is asymptomatic after a 10-day quarantine, they too can come back to school.

And if symptoms consistent with COVID-19 present themselves in a student or staff member who has not had a known exposure in the previous 14 days, those individuals are asked to follow the Department of Health's School Exclusion List as a guideline for when they can return.

Persichilli said there is one major condition to that, and it is regardless of vaccination status.

"Only if they have an alternative diagnosis such as strep throat, influenza, or allergies, supported by an evaluation by a medical provider," she said.

Gov. Phil Murphy said during Monday's press briefing that he would be open to "piloting" a policy in New Jersey schools based on what is being called "test-to-stay," which got an endorsement from the CDC on Friday.

That approach would allow close contacts of someone who has tested positive in a school to remain in the classroom as long as they continue to test negative.

"We're working with the school nurses. We have developed a proposal for a pilot," Persichilli said. "We're looking at that for the restart after the holiday break."

Meanwhile, conditions for child care settings remain separate from those in K-12 schools, and can be found on the DOH website, Persichilli said.

Outside of schools, New Jerseyans are still being asked to monitor their symptoms for 14 days after a known COVID exposure.

But if they remain asymptomatic, Persichilli said the options for self-isolation among the general population now mirror those of students and school staff — even for the unvaccinated.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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