Health experts had mixed reactions Monday to new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shorten the recommended quarantine period from 10 days to five days for those infected with COVID-19 or who have been in close contact with the virus.
While many agreed that the new recommendations are in line with evidence that shows people with the virus are most infectious two days before and three days after showing symptoms, some experts argued the CDC left out a key ingredient that would ensure a person is COVID-free when ending their quarantine: a negative COVID-19 test.
Dr. Michael Mina, a former Brigham and Women’s epidemiologist and an expert on rapid tests, said the omission of testing from the CDC’s guidance is “reckless.”
“Some [people] stay infectious 3 days, some 12,” Mina wrote in a Twitter post. “I absolutely don’t want to sit next to someone who turned [positive] 5 days ago and hasn’t tested [negative]. Test [negative] to leave isolation early is just smart.”
Another scientist posted on social media in agreement. Dr. Megan Ranney, associate dean of public health at Brown University in Providence, said “the science backs up the move, at least partially.”
“On the one hand: I’m all for following the science for the vaccinated & asymptomatic. No reason to keep people home unnecessarily,” she wrote on Twitter.
“On the other hand: the data shows a RANGE of infectiousness,” Ranney wrote in another post. “Requiring a rapid test before ending isolation ... would be far, far, far safer.”
The CDC’s guidance recommends people wear a mask in all settings for five days after ending their quarantine.
Getting a COVID test has been far from easy in recent weeks, with rapid tests flying off store shelves and testing facilities filling up with appointments. On Monday, during a conference call with governors, President Joe Biden acknowledged that the nation’s testing capacity hasn’t kept up with demand and said he is working to expand pop-up sites and the availability of at-home test kits.
Coronavirus cases continued to climb in Massachusetts and across the nation on Monday amid a winter surge driven by the highly transmissible but less severe Omicron variant. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the new guidance is meant to help prevent another economic shutdown and keep businesses open.
“We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science,” she told the Associated Press on Monday.
On the same day as the CDC’s announcement, the NBA, where cases have soared in recent days, updated its protocols allowing players to return to the court six days after testing positive for COVID-19, so long as they’re asymptomatic, according to reports. The league had previously required players to quarantine for 10 days after testing positive.
For any industry, the shortened isolation period could keep more employees available to work.
“With the sheer volume of new cases that we are having and that we expect to continue with Omicron, one of the things we want to be careful of is that we don’t have so many people out,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told CNN on Monday. “If you are asymptomatic and you’re infected, we want to get people back to the jobs, particularly those with essential jobs, to keep our society running smoothly.
“So I think that was a very prudent and good choice on the part of the CDC, which we spent a considerable amount of time discussing, namely getting people back in half the time than they would have been out so that they can get back to the workplace, doing things that are important to keep society running smoothly.”
Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, praised the CDC’s decision to cut the recommended isolation period in half.
“This is terrific -- consistent with the evidence and data for contagiousness,” Jha wrote on Twitter Monday afternoon, adding that the move is “exactly what our country needs right now.”
In another tweet a couple of hours later, Jha, noting Ranney’s call for a negative test to be included in the guidance, said he agreed but felt the CDC’s recommendation, as it stands, “seems pretty reasonable.”