The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 guidelines on Monday, shortening the isolation timeline for those who contract the virus to just five days — and raising the hackles of many health experts in the process.
Previously, the CDC stated that people needed to isolate for ten days after their first positive test results. The latest announcement cut that isolation period in half. However, the person must be asymptomatic and continue to wear a mask for five days after isolating.
This move may be heartening for some, but it has predictably drawn a lot of skepticism from health experts.
"The CDC’s move to shorten isolation to five days, with no requirement to test negative before going back to work, is reckless and dangerous," Justin Feldman, a social epidemiologist at Harvard, told Gizmodo. He added that people can "still infect others after five days."
Other experts such as Ellie Murray, epidemiology professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, believe that the data the CDC used to justify their updates were thin.
"Shortening the isolation period does not seem to be based on any new data about the virus or how it spreads, and epidemiologically there’s no new evidence to support this change," Murray told Gizmodo. "I do not think that it will help if the goal is to keep cases as low as possible."
In fact, there might be a more selfish motivation behind the updates. Last week, Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian called on the CDC in a letter to curtail the isolation period to five days saying that the "10-day isolation for those who are fully vaccinated may significantly impact our workforce."
"It is a clear case of prioritizing corporate profit over public health, and it’s happening at a time when many hospitals are starting to become overwhelmed with COVID patients," Feldman added.
Indeed, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has surged caseloads in recent weeks. It’s resulted in overwhelmed hospitals and major disruptions to holiday travels over Christmas weekend.
While the timing of the CDC announcement is fairly suspect, there is a case to be made for it. The country is going through a period of massive staffing shortages. Medical services can’t stand to lose anymore workers — so the sooner they can come back to work after contracting COVID the better.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it could be downright dangerous — and they might just be kowtowing to corporate interests.