Overnight Health Care — CDC cuts isolation time for the asymptomatic
Welcome to Monday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.
Omicron continues to stampede through the sports world. There were nearly 100 players who tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday alone.
Meanwhile, U.S. health officials are halving the isolation time for asymptomatic people who test positive for COVID-19.
Let’s get started.
CDC shortens isolation time to five days
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is cutting its recommended isolation time for people infected with COVID-19 from 10 to five days, as long as they are asymptomatic.
The agency on Monday said that change applies to everyone, regardless of vaccination status and that after the five days is up, people should wear a mask around other people at all times for another five days.
Additionally, the CDC said it was shortening the recommended quarantine to five days for people who are unvaccinated or vaccinated but not boosted if they are exposed.
People who have received booster shots do not need to quarantine after an exposure, the agency said, but should wear a mask for 10 days.
The CDC said the change was driven by science showing that the majority of virus transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the first two days prior to onset of symptoms, and the two to three days after.
“CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses. These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
No testing: Monday’s announcement follows the agency’s move last week to change guidelines to allow health care workers to reduce their time in isolation from 10 days to seven, or even five, in times of a staffing crisis. The Biden administration was under pressure to extend the reduced isolation guidance to everyone.
But while the guidance for health workers said they needed to test negative 48 hours before returning to work, there was no language on testing for the general public.
Experts: COVID cases don’t tell whole story
For nearly two years, Americans have looked carefully at coronavirus case numbers in the country and in their local states and towns to judge the risk of the disease.
Surging case numbers signaled growing dangers, while falling case numbers were a relief and a signal to let one’s guard down in terms of gathering with friends and families and taking part in all kinds of events.
But with much of the nation’s population vaccinated and boosted and the country dealing with a new COVID-19 surge from omicron — a highly contagious variant that some studies suggest may not be as severe as previous variants — public health officials are debating whether the nation needs to shift its thinking.
Many people are going to get omicron, but those that are vaccinated and boosted are unlikely to suffer dire symptoms.
As a result, hospitalizations and deaths are the markers that government officials need to monitor carefully to ensure the safety of communities as the nation learns to live with COVID-19.
Rising case numbers still say something about the disease, and the spikes from omicron are leading to real concerns.
Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, noted on Sunday that even if omicron leads to less severe cases of COVID-19, if it infects tens of millions it will have the potential of straining resources in hospitals.
Many states have been seeing staggering numbers of positive tests and lines for COVID-19 testing that stretch for several blocks. Washington, D.C., and New York state have set records in recent days for the number of new cases reported as omicron barrels through the population.
But even with case totals surpassing last year’s numbers, President Biden and White House officials have been quick to point out that hospitalizations haven’t been as high as the numbers seen in the winter of 2020.
BIDEN SAYS ‘MORE WORK TO DO’ AMID TESTING SCRAMBLE
President Biden acknowledged Monday there is “more work to do” on COVID-19 testing in the U.S. after many scrambled to get tests over Christmas and ahead of New Year’s Day amid a sharp rise in cases.
“Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do. We’re doing it,” Biden said on a White House COVID-19 response team call with governors to discuss the administration’s response to the omicron variant.
“I know the lines have gotten very long in some states,” he said, adding that he ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up pop-up sites in places with high demand such as New York City, where six new sites have been established in the last five days. While acknowledging the need for more testing, the president touted the wider availability of over-the-counter tests, noting that eight at-home tests are now on the market and another was cleared last week.
“But it’s not enough, it’s clearly not enough,” he said.
GOP GOVERNOR THANKS BIDEN
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on Monday thanked President Biden for his efforts to “depoliticize” the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as the omicron variant surges across the country.
Biden held a call with numerous governors to discuss the response to the latest COVID-19 variant, which is highly contagious and has led to a sharp increase in cases and triggered long waits for testing.
“I want to thank all of the White House team for being such great support to the governors,” Hutchinson said in opening remarks on the conference call. “And I want to thank, Mr. President, [for] your address to the nation last week. Thank you for your comments designed to depoliticize our COVID response. I think that was helpful.
“As we face omicron, the governors and your administration must be working together more closely than ever. I particularly appreciate your comments on increasing the supply chain on rapid COVID tests. This has become a real challenge for the governors,” added Hutchinson, who is the chairman of the National Governors Association.
Abortion rights groups hit tech giants
Abortion rights groups say Facebook and other tech giants are making it harder for the public to access information about abortion pills by blocking posts and ads with credible information.
They say limited access to online information about self-managed abortions will be even worse for women if strict anti-abortion bans limiting access to care, such as Mississippi’s, are upheld by the Supreme Court.
“People already have to jump through so many hoops to get abortion care, and it’s likely to become even more difficult if not impossible for millions of people,” said Dina Montemarano, research director at NARAL.
The concerns about social media are twofold — as the companies are blocking credible information, advocates say tech giants are allowing bad actors to spread false information about abortion care.
Suspended, rejected: Executives at Plan C, an organization that provides educational resources about abortion pills, said Facebook and Instagram routinely remove Plan C’s organic posts and rejects their ads.
Earlier this month Plan C had its Google ad account suspended for several days, and in August Google-owned YouTube suspended the channel of Ipas, an international nongovernmental organization that increases access to safe abortions and contraception, for about a week because of an animated video about self-managed abortion with pills.
YouTube cited a policy violation of promoting an illegal medical procedure or directing users to drugs, but like with Plan C’s content the video was providing information and not advertising for a drug.
Despite the hurdles they face with social media companies, advocates say the platforms are still the best way to reach the general public.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- U.S. hospitals steel for continuing surge in covid cases fueled by the omicron variant (Washington Post)
- Forecasting the Omicron winter: Experts envision various scenarios, from bad to worse (Stat)
- How Brigham Health helped create a Chinese hospital for elites — and almost nobody came (Boston Globe)
STATE BY STATE
- Fauci says New York was right to ease quarantine rules for health care workers (NPR)
- Anger over mask mandates, other covid rules, spurs states to curb power of public health officials (Washington Post)
- Minnesota passes 1 million COVID cases, but growth slows (Star Tribune)
OP-EDS IN THE HILL
- Biden needs an ‘Operation Warp Speed’ for omicron
- Fight COVID-19 with lessons learned from HIV
- Air travel under attack by omicron
That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Tuesday.
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