CDC decision to shorten COVID isolation sows confusion and doubt

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Federal health officials’ decision to shorten the recommended isolation and quarantine period for COVID-19 from 10 days to five days is drawing criticism from some medical experts and could create more confusion and fear among Americans.

Much to the dismay of some authorities, the new guidelines allow people to leave solitary confinement without being tested to see if they are still contagious.

The guidelines have raised questions about how they were designed and why they’ve been changed now, amid another winter spike in cases, this one largely due to the highly contagious omicron variant.


What would you like to know

  • Some health experts appear divided over CDC’s decision to shorten the recommended isolation and quarantine period for COVID-19 from 10 days to five days
  • The CDC has come under pressure from the public and private sectors, including the airline industry, to shorten isolation time and reduce the risk of serious staff shortages amid the omicron wave
  • CDC officials said the guidelines are in line with growing evidence that people with the virus are most contagious in the first few days, which is supported by research
  • But other experts wondered why CDC guidelines allowed people to leave solitary confinement without testing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s action on Monday cut the recommended isolation time in half for Americans infected with the coronavirus but showing no symptoms. The CDC has also shortened the time it takes to quarantine people who have been in close contact with an infected person.

The CDC has come under pressure from the public and private sectors, including the airline industry, to shorten isolation time and reduce the risk of serious staff shortages amid the omicron wave. Thousands of flights have been canceled in the past few days amid a mess blamed on omicron.

“Not all of these cases will be serious. In fact, many will be asymptomatic, ”CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said on Monday. “We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society running while following science.”

CDC officials said the guidelines are in line with growing evidence that people with the virus are most contagious in the first few days.

Research, including a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in August, confirms this, although medical experts have warned that almost all of this data predates omicron.

The CDC on Tuesday released a report on a cluster of six omicron cases in a Nebraska household and found that the median incubation period – the time between exposure and onset of symptoms – was about three days, compared to five or more days documented earlier in the pandemic. The six people also suffered from relatively mild illness.

But other experts wondered why the CDC guidelines allowed people to leave solitary confinement without testing.

“It is frankly unwise to proceed like this,” said Dr Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “It is essential to use a rapid test or some type of test to validate that the person is not infectious. “

“There is no evidence, no data to support this,” he added.

Louis Mansky, director of the Institute for Molecular Virology at the University of Minnesota, noted that there is a scientific basis for the CDC’s recommendations, saying the CDC likely did not include exit testing in its guidelines for Logistical reasons: There is a race on COVID-19 rapid tests amid skyrocketing cases and peak vacation travel season. In many places, home testing is difficult or impossible to find.

The CDC is “driven by science, but they also have to be mindful of the fact, you know, what they’re going to tell the public they’re going to do,” Mansky said. “It would undermine the CDC if it had guidelines that everyone was ignoring.”

Qamara Edwards, director of business and events for Sojourn Philly, which has four restaurants in Philadelphia, said about 15% of its employees are sick with COVID-19 and the staff is small.

The CDC’s changes are “great for businesses, they get people back to work sooner than they expected,” Edwards said, though she understands why workers can be resilient and worried about their job. security.

In Los Angeles, King Holder, who runs fitness company StretchLab Beverly, also said that omicron has caused “a lot of disruption” to his business, and he welcomed the more relaxed guidelines.

“The possibility of five days versus 10 to 14 days is huge for our business and keeps us afloat,” he said.

But Dana Martin, a 38-year-old teacher and education consultant from Philadelphia, said, “The looser COVID guidelines make me nervous. I’m more reluctant to participate in vacation activities because of the omicron variant and seemingly lax protocols.

Marshall Hatch, senior pastor at New Mount Pilgrim Church on the West Side of Chicago, said he was preparing for some confusion in his congregation. The church has been a strong advocate for testing, immunization and booster shots.

Hatch said the CDC’s latest guidelines were confusing and “a little incongruous.”

“Either we are in a wave that we need to take very seriously or we are slowing down the pandemic and that is why we are shortening the isolation and quarantine times,” he said on Tuesday. “They might want to give us a little more information to go with it.”

Hatch said some members of the largely black congregation, especially the elderly, are skeptical of the government information.

The CDC’s decision follows global efforts to adjust isolation rules, with policies differing from country to country.

England last week reduced its self-isolation period for vaccinated people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to seven days in many cases, provided two negative lateral flow tests are performed within one day interval.

The French government said on Monday it would relax its isolation rules soon, although the exact scale is not yet clear.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said the rule changes will aim to avoid the “paralysis” of public and private services. According to some estimates, France could register more than 250,000 new infections per day by January.

Italy, meanwhile, is considering removing a quarantine altogether for those who have been in close contact with an infected person as long as they have had a booster. Projections indicate that up to 2 million Italians could be quarantined over the next two weeks as the virus spreads.

The US airline industry applauded the CDC’s decision.

“The decision is the right one, based on the science,” lobbying group Airlines for America said.

But the head of a flight attendant union criticized the change, saying it could cause companies to pressure sick employees to come back before they are doing well.

If that happens, “we will make it clear that this is a hazardous work environment, which will cause a much greater disruption than any ‘staff shortage’,” warned Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International.


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