The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday cut the amount of time it recommends people should isolate after testing positive for COVID-19, reducing the number of days from 10 to five.
Health officials similarly reduced the amount of time one should quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tests positive.
The changes come amid a recent surge in cases spurred by the omicron variant and concerns about staffing shortages at hospitals, airlines and businesses across the country. Research has suggested omicron, while more infectious, causes milder illness. CDC officials say the new 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.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the country is about to see a lot of omicron cases.
“Not all of those cases are going to be severe. In fact many are going to be asymptomatic,” she told The Associated Press on Monday. “We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science.”
Last week, the agency loosened rules that previously called on health care workers to stay out of work for 10 days if they test positive. The new recommendations said workers could go back to work after seven days if they test negative and don’t have symptoms. And the agency said isolation time could be cut to five days, or even fewer, if there are severe staffing shortages.
Also in the news:
► Minnesota has become the 18th state to report at least 1 million coronavirus cases, Johns Hopkins University data shows.
► Up to 300 Massachusetts National Guard members started fanning out across the state Monday to provide much needed help to dozens of understaffed hospitals facing a surge of COVID-19 patients.
► The state of Connecticut plans to distribute 3 million at-home COVID-19 rapid tests and 6 million N95 masks to residents beginning as soon as Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 52 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 816,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 279.9 million cases and 5.4 million deaths. More than 204 million Americans – 61.7% – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: In some counties in the U.S., only half of the spike in deaths during the pandemic has been attributed to COVID-19. Researchers say that points to a massive undercount.
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A little champagne and a kiss are fine, but Americans should stay away from big parties this New Year’s Eve, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.
Fauci said in an interview on CNN that people should avoid the gatherings where they don’t know the vaccination status of all the guests. The omicron variant is fueling another infection surge, and crowded indoor parties could accelerate spread.
“When you are talking about a New Year’s Eve party, where you have 30, 40, 50 people celebrating, you do not know the status of the vaccination – I would recommend strongly, stay away from that this year,” Fauci said. “There will be other years to do that, but not this year.”
President Joe Biden conceded Monday that his administration has not done enough to provide access to coronavirus testing and promised to step up the effort. Earlier this month the Biden administration touted a plan to combat the latest surge that included 500 million free tests. But those test haven’t begun rolling out yet, and demand for tests before holiday gatherings set off a rush that depleted stocks in most pharmacies and other locations.
“Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do,” Biden said during a call with the White House Covid-19 Response Team and several governors. “We’re doing it.”
He said that starting in two weeks private insurance will reimburse people for the cost of at home test, and that the government will provide access to free tests for people without insurance.
Airlines canceled and delayed thousands more flights Monday amid a staffing crisis caused by the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant. This after more than 1,500 flights within, into or out of the U.S. were canceled Sunday and over 6,000 delayed, the tracking website FlightAware reported. Several airlines said the scheduling issues were caused by staffing problems tied to COVID-19.
JetBlue spokesperson Derek Dombrowski said the airline has seen an “increasing number” of sick calls because of the fast-spreading omicron variant. The company entered the holiday season with the highest staffing levels since the start of the pandemic, he said. He warned that additional cancellations and delays “remain a possibility.”
The omicron variant is proving to be much more contagious than the delta variant; omicron now accounts for more than 70% of new cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.
FLIGHT CANCELED? What airlines owe you when flights are canceled, delayed
Large-scale, regular testing remains rare in the child care world, but the idea is gaining traction as omicron works its way into communities. Families are fighting to keep their kids in classrooms, which at the early learning level often stay open during winter break. The upside to regular testing extends far beyond the classrooms and teachers, experts say. Read more here.
“Every time a classroom of 12 kids has to close down because of an outbreak, that’s at least 12 parents who can’t go to work,” said Sarah Muncey, co-president and chief innovation officer of Neighborhood Villages, an organization that advocates for early education reform. If “we have multi-pronged testing strategies … we can live through this winter and keep child care and, therefore, the economy open.”
– Alia Wong
A retired Iowa school superintendent died in late November, nearly a month after he was diagnosed with sepsis, and his family thinks COVID-19 is indirectly to blame. They say Dale Weeks might have survived if he’d been admitted immediately to a large medical center, where he could have received advanced testing and prompt surgery. But he stayed for 15 days at Newton’s relatively small hospital because the bigger Iowa facilities said they couldn’t spare a bed for him, his family says. Iowa’s short-staffed hospitals have been jammed for months with patients, including people severely sickened by COVID-19.
“It’s infuriating that people who are not vaccinated are clogging it up,” said Jenifer Owenson of Des Moines, who is one of Weeks’ four children.
– Tony Leys, Des Moines Register
Private employers operating in New York City must require COVID-19 vaccinations for their workers beginning Monday under a sweeping mandate aimed at curbing a spike in the virus. The order affects an estimated 184,000 businesses, and those that do not comply could face fines starting at $1,000. But Mayor Bill de Blasio has said imposing penalties would be a last resort. Unvaccinated workers need not be fired but must be kept out of the workplace.
Employers have to verify and keep a record of each worker’s proof of vaccination. Workers who have only gotten one shot will have to get a second one within 45 days. Companies must display a sign affirming they are complying with the rule “in a conspicuous location,” under the city’s mandate.
Israel has begun trials of a fourth dose of coronavirus vaccine with 150 medical personnel who received a booster dose in August receiving a fourth shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The staff receiving the additional dose were tested and found to have low antibody levels.
The trial came as Israeli officials have considered rolling out a second tranche of booster shots to its population. Israel, like much of the world, is grappling with rising infections from the omicron variant. Over 4.2 million of Israel’s 9.3 million people have received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
“This study is expected to shed light on the additional benefit of giving a fourth dose, and lead us to understand whether and to whom it is worth giving a fourth dose,” said Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit at Sheba Medical Center
Even with testing disruptions from the Christmas holiday, America still reported dramatically worse COVID-19 numbers on Sunday.
In just the most recent 17 days the country has reported more new coronavirus cases than it had in all of November, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. In the week ending Sunday, the country reported 1.39 million cases – nearly 200,000 per day.
That number is up 47% from a week earlier, and up 65% from two weeks earlier. Christmas disruptions and limited access to testing mean the real number is likely worse.
New case records were set in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico.
– Mike Stucka, USA TODAY
The latest wave of COVID-19 is pounding hospitals in some parts of the country, according to Department of Health and Human Services data reported Sunday. Washington, D.C., reported 77% more COVID-19 patients in hospital beds, and 42% more in intensive-care beds, than a week earlier. Florida’s hospital admissions are up 64%. Hawaii’s are up 44%.
And in Louisiana, COVID-19 hospitalizations doubled in the last week. The Louisiana Department of Health said 449 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Sunday. That’s the highest since mid-October, which at the time was the state’s worst surge. Statewide, 80% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are not fully vaccinated, the health department reported.
But the wave is moving unevenly across the country. Nearly half of the states report lower COVID-19 admissions and fewer people in ICU beds.
COVID-19 cases are continuing to emerge on cruise ships. Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and MSC Cruises are among the companies dealing with clusters of cases on board, spurring itinerary changes and protocols to mitigate spread.
The CDC has been working with global public health experts and industry partners to learn about omicron, spokesperson Dave Daigle told USA TODAY last week. “We are still learning how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and how well available vaccines and medications work against it,” he said.
The likelihood of contracting the coronavirus on a cruise is “high because the virus spreads easily between people in close quarters aboard ships,” Daigle said.
MSC Seashore, which was scheduled to disembark passengers Thursday, sailed with 28 passengers who tested positive for COVID-19. The CDC is investigating Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas ship as it sails with more than 50 cases of coronavirus onboard.
– Morgan Hines, USA TODAY
Testing positive for COVID-19 starts a confusing, disruptive and at times frightening process – one that millions of Americans will likely go through in the coming week.
First, you need to isolate. That’s a more intense version of quarantining – it means cutting off contact with other people as much as possible so you reduce the chance of infecting them. This also means forgoing travel, not going to work and even limiting contact with people in your own household who aren’t infected.
The CDC says isolating is a necessary step whether you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated, and whether you have symptoms or feel fine.
Everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should monitor their symptoms. And people who are unvaccinated or at high risk for severe disease should be extra-vigilant for symptoms that might require emergency care. Call your doctor for early treatment options.
How long should you isolate? How long will I be contagious? What if you are a close contact with someone who tested positive? Here’s what you should know about omicron and COVID this holiday season.
Contributing: The Associated Press