Five-day isolation: Is CDC right about new COVID guidelines?
- The CDC released new COVID-19 quarantine recommendations on December 27, 2021, shortening the isolation period from 10 days to five days given no symptoms or lessening symptoms (without fever). The following five days should be accompanied by masks to minimize the spread of the virus.
- Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, said the new updates were “motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness” but that it was also spurred on by the economy. “We also want to make sure we can keep the critical functions of society open and operating.”
- On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization announced a new COVID variant, Omicron (B.1.1.529), first reported from South Africa on November 24, 2021. Delta was the previous COVID variant.
- As of December 30, 2021, 205.8 million people have been vaccinated in the United States which is 62% of the population, while 73.3% have had at least one dose.
- Johns Hopkins research shows COVID spikes nationwide have been rising at a higher rate than before the vaccines were available despite more than half the country being fully vaccinated.
The new CDC recommendations shortening the quarantine isolation period from ten to five days was made in the face of solid evidence that the Omicron variant is spreading fast in every state. The latest data reveals that new COVID cases in the US have set a seven-day record of more than 265,000 cases per day, causing many to wonder why the CDC has reduced the isolation period.
As most things have been throughout this pandemic, everything has been politicized. There is a severe labor shortage in almost every industry as nearly all airlines have had to cancel thousands of flights. So rather than protecting vulnerable Americans, the CDC is favoring the economic impact of industries over the health of this nation by reducing the isolation period. While it's true COVID-19 is more likely to transmit within the first few days after the infection, what many forget is how some people may not develop symptoms for 10-14 days. This means if the infected are not isolated for a longer period, the virus will continue to be transmitted throughout society.
Our neighbors to the North feel that the short period of isolation is more likely to cause more spread of the virus, and they have stayed with a minimum of ten days of isolation. Canadian physicians believe reducing the isolation period can be 'dangerous,' especially if other public health precautions are not enforced.
The US economy is labile, and public discontent is common. But by reducing the isolation period, the CDC is gambling on the risks of this new recommendation over promoting the safety provided through prolonged isolation.
The CDC recently revised its recommended isolation and quarantine period for those infected with the COVID-19 virus. It recommends that people with COVID-19 be isolated for five days, reduced from the previous ten days. This is a recognition of the reality that the Omicron variant induces much more mild symptoms. Per the CDC, most SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the one to two days prior to the onset of symptoms and the two to three days after.
It is, perhaps, also a realization that businesses, which have faced more than enough disruptions due to government-mandated COVID-related protocols, need relief from continuous shutdowns. Throughout the COVID pandemic, the CDC had consistently put on the air of 'following the science' when it included other factors in its decision-making. This appears to be another such instance, but this time for a good reason—reality.
Many industries have been affected by the extended isolation periods for COVID-positive employees. Short-staffing has become the norm. We have all seen, and many experienced, flight cancellations or delays by the airlines during the busy holiday travel season due to short-staffing. Similarly, hospitals are reporting short staff due to the lengthy CDC-recommended quarantine periods. The sooner any worker can return to work following a bout with COVID, the better.
Again, the Omicron variant has mild symptoms. Free vaccines are readily available, even if tests are in short supply. Still, it makes sense that the CDC makes practical and realistic recommended guidelines for the real world.