Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyGottlieb: US should be 'aggressive' in lifting COVID-19 measures as conditions improve CDC on omicron cases, hospitalizations: 'Milder does not mean mild' WATCH: White House COVID-19 Response Team update MORE reported Friday that there have been a record number of pediatric hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and announced new isolation guidelines for students, staff and teachers to preserve in-person learning in schools.
During a media briefing, Walensky cautioned that pediatric hospitalizations are at the highest point they have ever been during the pandemic, even though they are much lower when compared to adults. She said it’s still not clear if the increase is due to a greater burden of disease in children's communities or their lower rates of vaccination.
The increase was seen most in children younger than 4, who are ineligible for vaccination, and the data include those admitted to hospitals for reasons other than COVID-19 who then tested positive.
“Please, for our youngest children, those who are not yet eligible for vaccination, it's critically important that we surround them with people who are vaccinated to provide them protection,” Walensky said. “This includes at home, at day care and preschool and throughout our entire community.”
According to CDC data, in the week ending Jan. 1, children under the age of 4 had 4.3 COVID-19 associated hospitalizations per 100,000. Children ages 5 to 17 had only 1.1 hospitalizations per 100,000. Both are well under the rate of 14.7 in adults over 65.
Currently just over 50 percent of children ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated and 16 percent of ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated.
The CDC director also detailed the agency's updated quarantine and isolation guidance for students, staff and teachers as part of an effort to keep people safe while schools remain open.
The new policy shortens the period of isolation time following infection to five days and brings schools in line with the agency’s guidance for the general public and health workers.
Walensky noted that many schools have closed or returned to virtual learning after the holiday break due to surging cases of the omicron variant.
“Our updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine, and our prior publications and continued assessment of test-to-stay protocols in schools, provide the tools necessary to get these schools reopened for in-person learning and to keep them open for the rest of the school year,” Walensky said.
But amid continued questions and confusion about the isolation and quarantine guidelines, Walensky sought to clarify that people should not be leaving isolation if they’re still showing symptoms, even if it has been five days since their symptoms began.
“If on day five, you don't have symptoms anymore, then we can talk about, you know, coming out of isolation with a mask on, strictly masking for those remaining five days, but the first indication there is, do your symptoms remain or not,” Walensky said. “Our guidance is very clear that you should not leave isolation if you're still symptomatic.”
But according to the CDC’s written guidance, a person doesn’t have to be clear of symptoms in order to leave isolation.
This has in recent days led to new policies from employers, including school districts, that say employees who have tested positive but are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms need to return to work after five days instead of 10.
Updated 3:15 p.m.