The federal government is considering relaxing its guidance for people with Covid-19 to isolate for 10 days after developing symptoms—particularly for healthcare workers with asymptomatic cases—Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday, as the U.S. faces a likely huge influx in mild breakthrough cases from the highly transmissible omicron coronavirus variant.
Fauci told CNN that while there are “no decisions yet,” changing the guidance is an “important consideration that is being discussed right now.”
Fauci was asked about the isolation period after Dr. Anish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, suggested on Twitter the 10-day period may be “excessive” for people who have received booster shots and only have mild breakthrough cases—though he noted “more data” on exactly when people stop being contagious “would be nice.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet responded to a request for comment, but a spokesperson previously told the Atlantic that “any changes to shortening isolation or quarantine guidance will be made based on science and research.”
“Rather than keeping [healthcare workers] out for seven to 10 days, if they are without symptoms, put a N95 mask on them, make sure they have the proper PPE, and they may be able to get back to work sooner than the full length of the quarantine period,” Fauci suggested.
1 million. That’s how many Covid-19 cases the U.S. could potentially record per day due to the highly transmissible omicron variant without proper mitigation measures, National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins warned on NPR on Sunday. The variant is now linked to 73% of new Covid-19 cases in the U.S.—up from just 3% the week before—and studies suggest initial Covid-19 vaccine doses are much less effective at preventing infection. Booster shots appear to provide greater protection, though breakthrough cases are still possible, and vaccines do appear to remain highly protective against severe disease and death.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends people who have tested positive for Covid-19 should isolate themselves from others for 10 days after symptoms develop, with the day they develop symptoms counting as day zero and the day after that as day one of the isolation period. Those who never develop symptoms should isolate for 10 days after testing positive for Covid-19, but the 10 days would start over if they develop symptoms within that period. As more vaccinated people get breakthrough cases and data suggests they may shed the virus and stop being contagious faster, that guidance has come under more scrutiny. Public health experts have suggested vaccinated people could potentially be let out of isolation once they start testing negative for Covid-19, which may be as soon as five days after developing symptoms. Fully vaccinated people “are probably not a risk to anybody anymore” once they “repeatedly” test negative, University of Saskatchewan virologist Angela Rasmussen told the Atlantic, though experts acknowledge more evidence is needed before that can conclusively be determined.