President Joe Biden's coronavirus pandemic response is facing a new wave of questions after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mitigation guidance earlier in the week.
The new rules reduce the quarantine time for positive cases from 10 to five days as long as positive individuals continue to wear a mask in necessary situations and is based on science indicating that the "majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness," per CDC officials. The guidance also removes certain benchmarks for leaving quarantine, including consecutive negative PCR tests and antigen tests entirely.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky cited economic and social reasons during a host of Wednesday appearances defending the updated guidance.
"We shortened the time to encourage people to do the right thing," she said in an interview with CBS. "We don't want them out and about when they are maximally infectious."
Walensky additionally told CNN that "the most amount of transmission occurs in those one to two days before you develop symptoms, those two to three days after you develop symptoms" and if "you map that out, those five days account for somewhere between 85% to 90% of all transmission that occurs."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, also cited societal and economic concerns Thursday as the driving forces for updating the guidance.
"The reason is that now that we have such an overwhelming volume of cases coming in, many of which are without symptoms, there's the danger that this is going to have a really negative impact on our ability to really get society to function properly," he explained on News Nation. "The CDC made a decision to balance what's good for public health at the same time as keeping the society running."
Still, medical experts have questioned the CDC's decision as the country prepares to head into its third pandemic year.
"CDC guidance doesn’t say only asymptomatic people can leave isolation — it says people with improving symptoms can leave isolation. Cough? Sore throat? Runny nose? As long it’s improving! Just one reason this new guidance is set up to fail," former Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted on Tuesday. "If it’s to keep the economy open, own it. But don’t claim science based, yet ignore the most important science (ie value of negative tests + high quality masks)."
As @TaisonBell points out, CDC guidance doesn’t say only asymptomatic people can leave isolation- it says people with improving symptoms can leave isolation. Cough? Sore throat? Runny nose? As long it’s improving! 👍🏽— Jerome Adams (@JeromeAdamsMD) December 28, 2021
Just one reason this new guidance is set up to fail. https://t.co/aXQF0GsMCj
And finally, if it’s to keep the economy open, own it. But don’t claim science based, yet ignore the most important science (ie value of negative tests + high quality masks).— Jerome Adams (@JeromeAdamsMD) December 28, 2021
And as @michaelmina_lab lays out, there’s science, and then there’s math…https://t.co/TJ0o85IA55 https://t.co/yp8a9xmok7
In a now deleted tweet, Adams even recommended against following the new relaxed guidance.
"I love the CDC. Grew up wanting to work there and have been one of their most ardent defenders. I never dreamed the day would come when I would advise people NOT to follow their guidance," he wrote. "They wouldn’t even follow it for their own family."
Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist at UChicago Medicine, said that the CDC is right about "the vast majority of the transmission happen in the first couple of days after the onset of the symptoms," but still questioned the decision shorten based on whether people are "really safe to carpool with or have close contact with or have them take care of your unvaccinated kids?"
"On the one hand: I'm all for following the science for the vaccinated & asymptomatic. No reason to keep people home unnecessarily," added Brown University's associate dean of public health Dr. Megan Ranney. "On the other hand: the data shows a RANGE of infectiousness. Requiring a rapid test before ending isolation (esp for folks like, say, healthcare workers) would be far, far, far safer."
3. What do I think about this?— Megan Ranney MD MPH 🗽 (@meganranney) December 28, 2021
On the one hand: I'm all for following the science for the vaccinated & asymptomatic.
No reason to keep people home unnecessarily.
Kudos to @CDCgov for recognizing that our knowledge has changed - and the virus has changed, esp for the vaxxed.
On the other hand: the data shows a RANGE of infectiousness. Requiring a rapid test before ending isolation (esp for folks like, say, healthcare workers) would be far, far, far safer.— Megan Ranney MD MPH 🗽 (@meganranney) December 28, 2021
Brilliant thread from @michaelmina_lab 👇https://t.co/M3AvIkMk2z
Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert at New York University's School of Medicine and a former COVID-19 adviser to Biden, questioned whether people could be trusted to properly follow this new relaxed guidance.
"Many people will wear their masks on their chins or below their noses, which is useless for preventing transmission," she claimed. "We should really be using objective concrete measures to decide whether somebody needs to continue being in isolation, such as rapid antigen testing,"
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Meanwhile, the internet reacted to CDC's latest by roundly mocking the guidance in a new meme format.
The CDC says you can now talk about fight club— Gibbs Free Energy (@bye_ology) December 28, 2021
CDC says if your boss calls you gotta answer, even if it's the weekend— peter pan (@panndder) December 28, 2021
The CDC says that the 5 second rule has been changed to 15 seconds. Pick that cookie up off the floor.— Coll is Colling 💅🏻 (@BookSyrup) December 28, 2021
CDC guidance says "thoughts and prayers" really do work.— Chaplain C, *External Coughing* (@TheRealRhllor) December 28, 2021
The CDC says you can now run with scissors.— 🏳️🌈 Cat Herding Science Nerd 🔬 (@catladyactivist) December 28, 2021
Don’t worry y’all. The CDC says we can put a pin on this and circle back later.— Shematologist, MD (@acweyand) December 28, 2021
The CDC now recommends ignoring the red flags and texting him anyway— Relatable Resident (@relatableafmd) December 28, 2021
The CDC now says a venti iced coffee and two ibuprofen is a balanced breakfast.— Shailin Thomas (@shailinthomas) December 28, 2021
CDC says when you've reached the center of a Tootsie Pop, your quarantine is over.— Algonquin K Farquhar, Esq (@buddhatree) December 28, 2021