(AP) — US health officials’ decision to shorten the recommended COVID-19 isolation and quarantine period from 10 days to five is drawing criticism from some medical experts and could create more confusion and fear among Americans.
To the dismay of some authorities, the new guidelines allow people to leave isolation without getting tested to see if they are still infectious.
The guidance has raised questions about how it was crafted and why it was changed now, in the middle of another wintertime spike in cases, this one driven largely by the highly contagious omicron variant.
Monday’s action by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut in half the recommended isolation time for Americans who are infected with the coronavirus but have no symptoms. The CDC similarly shortened the amount of time people who have come into close contact with an infected person need to quarantine.
The CDC has been under pressure from the public and the private sector, including Delta Air Lines, to explore ways to shorten the isolation time and reduce the risk of severe staffing shortages amid the omicron surge. Thousands of airline flights have been cancelled over the past few days in a mess blamed on omicron.
“Not all of those cases are going to be severe. In fact, many are going to be asymptomatic,” CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said Monday. “We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science.”
CDC officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the virus are most infectious in the first few days.
Louis Mansky, director of the Institute for Molecular Virology at the University of Minnesota, agreed there is a scientific basis to the CDC’s recommendations.
“When somebody gets infected, when are they most likely to transmit the virus to another person?” he said. “It’s usually in the earlier course of the illness, which is typically a day or two before they actually develop symptoms and then a couple of days to three days after that.”
But other experts questioned why the CDC guidelines allow people to leave isolation without testing.
“It’s frankly reckless to proceed like this,” said Dr Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “Using a rapid test or some type of test to validate that the person isn’t infectious is vital.”
“There’s no evidence, no data to support this,” he added.
The CDC move follows global efforts to adjust isolation rules, with policies differing from country to country. England last week trimmed 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 taken a day apart.
The French government said Monday that it will soon relax its isolation rules, although by exactly how much isn’t yet clear.
Italy, meanwhile, is considering doing away with a quarantine altogether for those who have had close contact with an infected person as long they have had a booster shot.