Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The CDC is the tail wagging the public’s dog

Last week the CDC updated its Covid isolation guidelines. The agency says it's "to help the public better protect themselves and understand their risk." 

Most importantly, there is no longer any distinction between those who are fully vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated against the virus. Instead, the CDC says anyone can end isolation after five days if asymptomatic or if fever-free for 24 hours and other symptoms are improving. Thereafter, one should mask around others either through day 10 or sooner after two sequential negative tests 48 hours apart.

The other key change — Quarantine for those exposed to Covid-19 is no longer a thing. Instead of quarantining, the CDC recommends wearing a high-quality mask for 10 days and getting tested on day 5. Thus, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, exposed employees no longer need to stay home unless and until they test positive. For this reason, there is zero incentive for anyone who thinks they've been exposed to test until they start to show symptoms. 

The other two changes:

  • Eliminating any recommended screening tests of asymptomatic people without known exposures.
  • De-emphasizing the importance of physical distancing in limiting the spread of Covid (goodbye 6-foot buffers).

According to senior CDC epidemiologist Greta Massetti, "This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives."

The word "severely" is doing a lot of work in that statement. Our country still averaging over 100,000 reported Covid cases per day, but experts warn that current case counts are underreported by as much as eight times. The good news is that deaths and hospitalizations are staying relatively flat and not tracking with the dramatic rise in cases linked to BA.5. This lack of severe Covid is likely tied to the belief that 98 percent of Americans have been exposed to the virus through a combination of environmental exposure and vaccination. Add to this good news the Omicron specific vaccine coming in the next month or so, and the Covid news isn't actually all that bad despite daily cases remaining high.

We all want Covid to be over. After 30(!) months, we're all exhausted. The reality, however, is that it isn't. Yet, if you walk around the grocery store, or restaurants, or most non-healthcare workplaces, it sure looks like it. Masks are scant, barriers are down, and other mitigation measures are history. Instead of leading on this issue, it sure looks like the CDC is reading the temperature of the American public and offering guidance that reflects public sentiment. 

How does this impact employers? For those that have used the CDC as their guidepost for workplace Covid mitigation policies, it's time to take out the red pen. Isolation and quarantine rules need to be rewritten, and testing and distancing rules need to be eliminated. For those that want to be more protective, the CDC has made the argument to employees that much more difficult.