The decision by the US health authorities to shorten the recommended isolation and quarantine period for COVID-19 from 10 days to five has drawn criticism from some medical experts and may mislead many Americans.
To the dismay of some authorities, the new rules allow people to emerge from isolation without getting tested to make sure they are still infectious.
The management raised questions about how it was created and why it has been changed now, in the midst of yet another winter peak in cases caused mainly by the highly contagious Omicron species.
Action by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), taken on Monday, halved the recommended isolation time for Americans infected with the coronavirus but without symptoms. The CDC has also shortened the time during which people who come into close contact with an infected person must be quarantined.
The new guidance was issued amid warnings from the business community that the rise in cases could soon cause widespread labor shortages as workers were forced to stay at home. Thousands of airline flights have been canceled in the past few days due to the mess that Omicron is to blame.
The recommendation is “reckless,” says one doctor.
CDC officials said the guidance is in line with growing evidence that people with the virus are most infectious in the first few days.
But other experts have wondered why guidelines allow people to emerge from isolation without testing.
“It’s downright reckless to do that,” said Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “Using a rapid test or some other test to confirm that a person is not contagious is vital.”
He added: “There is no evidence, no data to support this.”
VIEW | CDC announces a reduction in the recommended isolation period for COVID-19:
Just last week, the CDC loosened rules that previously called on healthcare workers not to work for 10 days if they test positive. The new guidelines say workers can return after seven days if they test negative and have no symptoms.
Early research suggests that Omicron can cause milder disease than earlier versions. But the sheer numbers of people becoming infected – and therefore forced to isolate or quarantine – threaten to limit the ability of hospitals, airlines and other businesses to stay open, experts say.
“Not all of these cases will be serious. In fact, many will be asymptomatic, ”said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walenski on Monday. “We want to make sure that there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to maintain the functioning of society by following science.”
Louis Manski, director of the Institute for Molecular Virology at the University of Minnesota, said the CDC’s recommendations have a scientific basis.
“When someone gets infected, when are they most likely to pass the virus on to another person?” he said. “This usually happens early in the disease, that is, a day or two before they actually have symptoms, and then a couple or three days after that.”
Research, including a study published in August in JAMA Internal Medicine, confirms this, although medical experts warn that almost all of the data refers to Omicron.
CDC under pressure from the public and private sectors
CDC is under pressure from the public and private sectors, including Delta Air Lines, to explore ways to shorten isolation times. Earlier this month, airline officials sent a letter to the CDC offering five days of isolation for fully vaccinated infected people with a “testing protocol” to get out of isolation.
Mansky said the CDC likely did not include field testing in its guidelines for logistical reasons: There is a launch of rapid tests for COVID-19 amid a spike in cases and a busy holiday season. Home tests are difficult or impossible to find in many places.
The CDC is “driven by science, but they also need to be aware of the fact, you know, what they’re going to tell the public about what they’re going to do,” Mansky said. “It would undermine the CDC if they had leadership that everyone ignored.”
VIEW | International airlines cancel flights due to illness of crew members:
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 proponent of testing, vaccination, and revaccination.
Hatch said the latest CDC guidance is confusing and “a little out of place.”
“Either we are experiencing an uptick that we must take very seriously, or we are reducing the pandemic and therefore shortening the isolation and quarantine times,” he said on Tuesday. “They might want to give us a little more information.”
Hatch said some members of the predominantly black community, especially the elderly, are skeptical about information from the government.
Isolation rules relax around the world
The CDC move follows a global effort to adjust isolation rules, with policies varying from country to country.
England last week shortened the self-isolation period for vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 in many cases to seven days, provided that two negative rapid lateral blood flow tests are taken at daily intervals.
On Monday, the French government said it would soon loosen isolation rules, although it is unclear how precise it is. Health Minister Olivier Veran said the changes to the rules will aim to prevent “paralysis” of public and private services. By some estimates, France could be registering more than 250,000 new infections per day by January.
Italy, meanwhile, is considering completely lifting quarantine for those who had close contact with an infected person while they were getting boosted. As the virus spreads, up to two million Italians are projected to be quarantined over the next two weeks.
The US airline has welcomed the CDC move.
“This is the right decision, based on scientific evidence,” said the American Airlines lobbying group.
But the head of the flight attendants union criticized the change, saying it could lead companies to force sick employees to return before they recovered.
If that happens, “we will make it clear that this is an unsafe work environment that will cause far greater disruption than any shortage of staff,” warned Sarah Nelson, president of the Flight Attendants Association-CWA International.