On December 27th, despite the number of new cases surging because of the Omicron variant, the CDC cut COVID-19 isolation time from 10 days to 5 days. After a positive test, the CDC recommends Americans end isolation after 5 days, as long as they are asymptomatic and wear a mask in public. The new guidelines apply to the general public, regardless of vaccination status.
“the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.”
The CDC said that the change was supported by new scientific discoveries: “the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.” That means that people are unlikely to transmit the virus to others after 5 days of isolation, especially if they continuously wear a mask.
The CDC also loosened guidelines for people who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19. For Americans who are unvaccinated or have not yet received their booster shot, the CDC recommends five days of quarantine, and then five days of strict masking. However, they also said that if someone cannot isolate for five days, then 10 days of mask-wearing following exposure is sufficient. Meanwhile, those who are fully vaccinated and have received their booster shot do not have to quarantine at all after being in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19.
“what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses.”
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explained the changes as a balance of “what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses.” The CDC also seems to want to allow people to still be able to do their normal jobs and live their normal lives. Prior to the CDC’s decision, various industries were blaming the large number of new Omicron cases for reducing their workforce. Workers were forced to isolate for 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19, which was detrimental to some businesses that were likely already understaffed.
The December 27th change in CDC guidelines was similar to the one on December 23rd which altered the rules for healthcare workers specifically. The CDC changed from recommending 10 days of isolation after a positive test to 7 days, in order to keep as many workers available to deal with the expected rise in cases from the highly contagious Omicron variant. The CDC maintains that their goal in amending the guidelines is keeping everyone safe, including patients and healthcare workers. Dr. Rochelle Wallensky also continues to encourage people to get vaccinated and boosted.
But while the CDC calls for prevention, these changes seem hypocritical. Soon after loosening restrictions, many more people were infected with and died of COVID-19. There were 200,000 new cases on December 26th, and that number quickly rose to nearly 900,000 on January 12th, amidst the updated guidelines.
“Wear a mask even if you’re vaxxed… It’s up to you New York.”
To combat the aggressive spread of the Omicron variant, on January 29th, New York Governor Kathy Hochul extended the state’s mask mandate in all indoor public places until February 10th. To encourage people to follow the mandate, signs have been put up with slogans like “Wear a mask even if you’re vaxxed… It’s up to you New York.” Businesses can avoid the mask mandate if they require COVID-19 vaccinations. Hochul said that the mandate has been “a critical tool” thus far in keeping case numbers down. New cases in New York state moved from 70,000 on January 12th to 20,000 on January 26th. The governor also mentioned that if cases continue to decline, then the mandate could be lifted after February 10th, as, indeed, it was.
Thankfully, COVID-19 cases have continued to drop, with only 8,000 cases reported on February 2nd in New York. Hospitalization numbers also dropped in that same period. Hopefully, case and hospitalization numbers will continue to decline.