Healthcare leaders hopeful reduced isolation time will decrease COVID spread

Published: Dec. 28, 2021 at 4:37 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 28, 2021 at 5:58 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - U.S. health officials on Monday cut isolation restrictions for asymptomatic Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days, and similarly shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

“There is a discomfort when you have changing guidelines rapidly over short periods of time,” said Dr. Jennifer Manning, associate nursing dean at LSU Health.

The decision was driven by a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, propelled by the omicron variant. Early research suggests omicron may cause milder illnesses than earlier versions of the coronavirus.

Hospitalizations doubled in Louisiana over the Christmas holiday, but remain far below peak numbers.

More: US officials recommend shorter COVID isolation, quarantine

The change is aimed at people who are not experiencing symptoms. People with symptoms during isolation, or who develop symptoms during quarantine, are encouraged to stay home.

The CDC’s isolation and quarantine guidance has confused the public, and the new recommendations are “happening at a time when more people are testing positive for the first time and looking for guidance,” said Lindsay Wiley, an American University public health law expert.

Manning says reducing hospital surge will help and protect healthcare workers the most.

While the shortened isolation period might be jarring to some, health experts say it also considers masking and vaccinations.

More: COVID cases surging again in Louisiana due to Omicron variant; people flock to COVID testing sites soon after Christmas

“The greatest risk is really the one to two days before you have symptoms. Once you have symptoms, probably up to three or three plus days afterward,” said Dr. Jeffrey Elder with LCMC.

Dr. Elder says the key to ending isolation is feeling asymptomatic or a dramatic improvement in symptoms.

“What we’re doing at the hospital is we’re being very specific on how we return people. We’re also doing things like having them wearing n95s. So they’re going to be masked throughout the whole time that they’re there. I think that also dramatically decreases the risk to others around them. I think that will get us to have our healthcare workers back in the workforce when we need them,” said Elder.

For the immediate future, however, masking is around to stay.

“If we continue down this course, we can see what a post-COVID-19 pandemic world might look like, in that you don’t have to sit out for two weeks. You go home, you don’t feel well for a few days, and then you go back to work wearing a mask. I mean, and that’s kind of where we’ve been trying to get to,” said health educator, Dr. Eric Griggs.

Elder says those who are immunocompromised or who wind up in the hospital for COVID will also likely have longer isolation periods, potentially up to 20 days after their sickest point.

Given the timing with surging case counts, the update “is going to be perceived as coming in response to pressure from business interests,” Wiley said. But some experts have been calling for the change for months, because shorter isolation and quarantine periods appeared to be sufficient to slow the spread, she said.

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