Biden Team Weighs Shorter Covid Isolation for Vaccinated With Breakthrough Case

Biden Team Weighs Shorter Covid Isolation for Vaccinated With Breakthrough Case

U.S. health officials are weighing whether to change isolation recommendations for some vaccinated people so that they could return to work sooner after a breakthrough case of Covid-19.  

The omicron variant of coronavirus carries mutations that are believed to enable it to more easily evade human antibodies. That may mean more breakthrough infections among the vaccinated.

But for vaccinated people, Covid-19 is almost always a mild and brief disease, raising the question whether a 10-day isolation is necessary. 

“That’s certainly an important consideration that’s being discussed right now, particularly in the context of health care workers,” Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, told CNN on Tuesday. 

He suggested, for example, that health-care workers who test positive for coronavirus infection may be able to return to work in less than 10 days as long as they wear N-95 masks and are asymptomatic. “No decisions yet,” he added.

U.S. hospitals say they are particularly struggling to retain nurses, faced with competition from temporary staffing companies that pay higher wages.

Current isolation guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes no distinction among the unvaccinated, fully vaccinated or those vaccinated with booster shots.

The CDC does say that fully vaccinated people who are asymptomatic don’t have to quarantine -- one step below isolation -- after an exposure to someone with Covid-19, unlike unvaccinated people.

CDC spokespeople didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said quarantine guidance is under discussion but that President Joe Biden will defer to the government’s medical experts.

“Given the spread of omicron, given the transmissibility of omicron, of course, they’re continuing to look at a range of steps,” she said in a briefing for reporters on Monday. “He is looking to them for that guidance.”

Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, and Bob Wachter, the chair of the University of California San Francisco Department of Medicine, both said in recent tweets that 10 days of quarantine is probably too long for vaccinated and boosted people with breakthrough cases.

“Want 100% assurance? Sure, do 10 days,” Jha said. But he said he’s advised friends to take a rapid antigen test after five days, and if it’s negative, that it’s “reasonable” to assume they’re no longer contagious.

“More data here would be nice,” he added.  

Also on Tuesday, the chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines Inc., Ed Bastian, co-signed a letter asking CDC Director Rochelle Walensky to reconsider the isolation guidance for the fully vaccinated, saying that the omicron variant, though more contagious, is “likely less virulent.”

“To address the potential impact of the current isolation policy, we propose a 5-day isolation from symptom onset for those who experience a breakthrough infection,” as opposed to the present 10 days, Bastian wrote, along with Henry Ting, the airline’s chief health officer, and Carlos del Rio, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University and a medical adviser to the company.

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