The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (motto: Saving Lives, Protecting People) has been the leading source of information about combatting the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. It was the source of the initial 14-day isolation guidance from 2020 and the shorter, 10-day isolation period once vaccines started to roll out. Now, the CDC has shortened that recommendation to a mere five days.
Did something change in U.S. vaccination rates, the communicability of the virus, or its danger? Has the Omicron variant been determined to die off in the body after only five days? Nope! Delta Airlines just wanted its sick employees to come back to work.
On December 21, Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian asked the CDC to shorten its recommended isolation period for vaccinated people who catch Covid. From Reuters:
“With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the 10-day isolation for those who are fully vaccinated may significantly impact our workforce and operations,” Bastian wrote. “Similar to healthcare, police, fire, and public transportation workforces, the Omicron surge may exacerbate shortages and create significant disruptions.”
Bastian noted the current guidance was developed in 2020 “when the pandemic was in a different phase without effective vaccines and treatments.”
Delta said that “as part of this policy change, we would be interested to partner with CDC and collect empirical data.”
This is what the kids would call “mask off” — no mention of communicability, safety, or public health, just a fear of isolation guidelines “significantly impacting” Delta’s “workforce and operations.” Bastian seems to acknowledge the possibility that this could lead to higher transmission rates, noting that Delta could “partner with CDC” to collect data from its planes. Because, after all, that’s the way you want to collect data on a highly contagious disease: By throwing still-infected people into an enclosed tube with others and just seeing what happens.
The CDC, on December 27th, gave its response to Bastian’s proposal: a resounding “Y’know what, sure, let’s send it.” The organization halved its recommended isolation time for infected people, giving them only five days to diagnose, combat, and beat Covid. From the CDC’s statement:
Given what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others. The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after. Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.
Note that there’s no requirement for a negative test in order to leave isolation. It seems that boarding a plane while infected, then proceeding to hand out bags of chips and weirdly small cups of ginger ale, is totally fine as long as you wear a mask.
The director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, included a quote in the statement. It included the sentence “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.” In the midst of a pandemic that’s left nearly 5.5 million people dead, during the rise of an even-more-transmissible variant, should people really be continuing like nothing’s wrong?