WASHINGTON — The day after a new coronavirus-free President Biden embarked on a post-infection vacation to South Carolina, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released revisions to pandemic guidelines that clearly indicate a shift from the state of emergency approach that has been in place since 2020. force, at least at the federal level.
The new rules, unveiled Thursday afternoon by the CDC’s chief field epidemiologist, Dr. Gretta Massetti, are the latest sign that the Biden administration is trying to transition to a new post-pandemic mode that recognizes the dangers of the coronavirus but also allows people to make their own decisions about how much those dangers should dictate their lives .
“This guideline recognizes that the pandemic is not over yet, but it also helps us get to a point where COVID-19 is no longer seriously disrupting our daily lives,” Massetti said in a statement accompanying the new guideline, which some say. was applauded and denounced. by others.
From several revisions, the update says “screening testing of asymptomatic people with no known exposures” is no longer necessary. The new guideline also recommends “merging case investigation and contact tracing only in healthcare facilities and certain high-risk settings.”
Such shifts are intended to alleviate some of the discomfort and disruption people and institutions have experienced in trying to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The new approach emphasizes finding and treating cases of severe disease, not eradicating every infection.
An accompanying guidance for schools ends last year’s test-to-stay policy, which required regular testing of students in a classroom with confirmed exposure to the coronavirus to continue attending school.
The new rules still recommend that people sick with COVID-19 self-isolate at home, but people — including students in schools — won’t have to quarantine if they’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive but didn’t call themselves sick feels. Instead, people who have been exposed should have a diagnostic test on the fifth day from the date of exposure and wear a mask for 10 days after that date.
“Quarantine is no longer recommended for people exposed to COVID-19, except in certain high-risk environments, such as correctional facilities, homeless shelters and nursing homes,” the revised rules said on Thursday. “In schools and [early childhood education] institutions, which are generally not considered high-risk gatherings, people exposed to COVID-19 should follow recommendations to wear a properly fitted mask and get tested.”
People who self-isolate with symptoms of the coronavirus must wear a mask for another five days after the end of the five-day isolation period.
But the agency is no longer emphasizing physical distancing, a popular practice from the early days of the pandemic that later became controversial. “Physical distancing is just one part of how to protect yourself and others,” the revised guideline says.
And while previous rules treated vaccinated and unvaccinated people differently, that difference has now been erased, even as the CDC continues to push for vaccination as basic protection. New variants of the coronavirus have shown they can evade vaccine defenses, making them less effective than once hoped. At the same time, so many people are infected with the coronavirus that natural immunity seems to form its own bulwark.
“High levels of population immunity due to vaccination and previous infection, and the many tools at our disposal to protect people from serious illness and death, have put us in a different place,” Massetti acknowledged Thursday.
Even many states with Democratic leadership, where caution had been the norm for most of the first two years of the pandemic, began returning to some sort of pre-pandemic normal in early 2022. The new CDC guidelines seem to recognize that reality, allowing individuals to make their own decisions about how many protections to take.
“I’m glad the CDC is finally reaching the point and recognizing that our broad health needs go beyond simply not getting COVID,” Dr. Lucy McBride, an internist and podcaster from Washington, in an email to Yahoo News. “Especially for children, it is time to better balance the damage of COVID with the damage of mitigation measures. COVID is here to stay. Living in a perpetual state of emergency is not sustainable; nor is it necessary with the widespread availability of vaccines and therapies.
Others, however, lamented that a presidential administration that had promised to “listen to the science” was abdicating its responsibility to Americans made vulnerable by disease, poverty or other circumstances.
“Capitulation,” said Yale public health expert Gregg Gonsalves in a text message to Yahoo News. He and others have noted that hundreds are dying every day from COVID-19, and that poor people and people of color have been bearing the brunt of the pandemic from the start.
“We need a vaccine and booster campaign and delivery,” Boston University public health expert Julia Raifman told Yahoo News. She also advocated for “data-driven peak flow policies that enable mask mandates early on bad peaks to prevent widespread health damage, overcrowded hospitals, and work and school disruptions.”
Los Angeles County came close to reinstating a mask mandate in July, but decided against it at the last minute.
The White House did not respond to a Yahoo News request for comment, but officials there have used Biden’s own battle with the coronavirus as evidence that vaccination, combined with treatment, easily blunts the effects of the disease. And they, like Massetti, have pointed out that the ever-evolving pathogen is unlikely to disappear completely, as some once hoped. That hope now seems hopelessly naive.
“This virus will be with us forever,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House coordinator for the pandemic response, at a briefing last month.
The new rules come as students prepare to go back to school and many white-collar workers return to the office. Meanwhile, the planes are full, as are sports stadiums and restaurants.
“The goal should be to minimize disruption to school, work and other aspects of life,” medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen in an email to Yahoo News. “It also recognizes that people currently have different levels of risk and risk tolerance and should be able to choose risk mitigation measures accordingly.”