Ambassador Deborah Birx, MD, infectious disease expert, and a former director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, weigh in on that agency's significantly changed quarantine and distancing guidelines.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it no longer recommends that someone quarantine if they come into close contact with an infected individual. The CDC also announced individuals no longer need to stay at least 6 feet away from others in public spaces.
While these changes are significant with the school year getting underway, one other change affects schools even more meaningfully. In the statement, CDC shelves the recommendation that schools do routine daily testing, unless, in certain situations, the testing is needed, such as during a surge in infections, officials said.
Many experts approve of the change, including Monica Gandhi, MD, MH, director of UCSF—Bay Area Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), professor of medicine and associate chief of division of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine, and medical director of the “Ward 86” HIV Clinic, San Francisco General Hospital, and a member of Infection Control Today®’s (ICT®’s) Editorial Board.
"I applaud the revised CDC guidelines which embrace that our advances in vaccines and treatment have significantly lowered the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death," Gandhi told ICT®. “The guidelines still recommend isolation and masking after a positive test but, otherwise, acknowledges advances in our COVID-19 tools in mid-2022, as well as balances other needs of society including that of keeping children in school."
Two and a half years after the beginning of the pandemic, an estimated 95% of Americans 16 and older have acquired some level of immunity, either from being vaccinated or infected, agency officials said, and that is the basis for the change.
However, not all experts agree with the CDC’s guideline changes. Ambassador Deborah Birx, MD, who once served as the director of CDC’s Division of Global HIV/AIDS, part of the agency's Center for Global Health, says the CDC’s guideline changes are too soon.
“Saying you are following the science and data requires agencies to collect population-based science and data and transparently provide that data to support guidance to the American people,” Birx said told ICT®. “I remain disappointed that CDC continues to provide guidance without full population data in support of the changes. Mitigation practices should absolutely evolve with additional tools to combat the virus from vaccination to antivirals and long-acting monoclonal. But without treating every COVID-19 severe disease that results in hospitalization and death as a failure of programming, we will continue to have an unacceptable rate of fatalities compared to all other high-income countries.”
The guidelines are only a part of the whole issue with mitigating the effects of COVID-19. Birx also said, “We are not addressing the critical gaps in access to primary health care in rural America and among our Tribal Nations. We need to understand and address these gaps at the community level to move this virus to an endemic status for all Americans. We must acknowledge the limitations in science and data in our understanding of long COVID-19 as well as persistent severe disease among specific Americans.”
CDC’s announcement on the COVID-19 guidelines is not enough explanation to the American public, Birx explained. “CDC must show the data supporting their shifts both in increasing and decreasing mitigation so every American can be empowered to make the decisions for themselves and their family so every American can not only survive but thrive despite persistent COVID-19 infections.“
One point from CDC stayed the same: the responsibility to stay safe remains on the individual. “To prevent medically significant COVID-19 illness and death, persons must understand their risk, take steps to protect themselves and others with vaccines, therapeutics, and nonpharmaceutical interventions when needed, receive testing and wear masks when exposed, receive testing if symptomatic, and isolate for equal to or more than 5 days if infected,” the announcement said.