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Top physician group slams new CDC isolation guidelines

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky
Greg Nash

The American Medical Association (AMA) on Wednesday slammed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) updated isolation and quarantine guidelines, arguing a negative test should be required before people can be cleared to leave isolation.

“The American people should be able to count on the [CDC] for timely, accurate, clear guidance to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities. Instead, the new recommendations on quarantine and isolation are not only confusing, but are risking further spread of the virus,” AMA President Gerald Harmon said in a statement.

The CDC on Tuesday attempted to clarify guidelines for when people should end isolation after being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, or after exposure to the virus. While many expected the agency to add language about a negative test, CDC instead said people can take a test if they want, but do not have to.

“A negative antigen test does not necessarily indicate the absence of transmissible virus,” the CDC said, which is why people should continue to wear masks even after leaving isolation.

But the nation’s top physician group said there needs to be a testing component.

“A negative test should be required for ending isolation after one tests positive for COVID-19. Reemerging without knowing one’s status unnecessarily risks further transmission of the virus,” Harmon said. 

“With hundreds of thousands of new cases daily and more than a million positive reported cases on January 3, tens of thousands – potentially hundreds of thousands of people – could return to work and school infectious if they follow the CDC’s new guidance,” he added.

Many experts have speculated that the CDC didn’t include a testing requirement because of the current shortage of rapid tests. In many places, at-home tests are difficult or impossible to find, and even if they are available, the prices are high. 

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Wednesday denied that the current lack of available tests was the reason for the recommendation.

“This has nothing to do with the shortage of available tests,” Walensky said during a White House briefing. 

She noted that the agency recommended a negative test for an unvaccinated person to leave quarantine after an exposure, and there will be more people in quarantine than there are in isolation.

Tags American Medical Association CDC Coronavirus COVID-19 testing isolation guidance Quarantine Rochelle Walensky

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