Press Release: Keep COVID isolation


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024


Experts oppose CDC proposal to cut COVID isolation time 

Express Concern CDC is caving to business at cost of public safety

The People’s CDC, a watchdog group of public health experts and patient and disability advocates, condemned the US CDC’s announced plan to eliminate guidelines specifying a minimum COVID isolation period. This proposed policy change is counter to medical science. It would signal to healthcare providers that a serious approach to COVID is not needed, though all the evidence shows that COVID is dangerous and too often deadly. Further, it would put the entire burden on the average worker to find a way to negotiate sick time to recover and try to not infect other people. Strong isolation policies, combined with universal paid sick leave, are essential. 

“The CDC is again prioritizing short term business interests over our health by caving to employer pressure on COVID guidelines. This is a pattern we’ve seen throughout the pandemic,” said Lara Jirmanus, MD, MPH, People’s CDC member and Clinical Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “We saw similar policymaking for corporations in December 2021 when the CDC changed from 10-day isolation to 5. That came after the Delta Air Lines CEO emailed then CDC director Rochelle Walensky to urge shorter isolation times to reduce ‘disruptions’ of airline operations due to workers isolating and recuperating. Public health policy should put people first, not billionaires. Rather than ending isolation, the US should ensure paid sick leave for all.”

The People’s CDC is organizing a call-in day to the White House and Congress for tomorrow –  Thursday, February 15th. 

Kim Rhoads, MD, MPH, Epidemiologist & Biostatistician at UCSF, said, “This proposal is not based on new data. In fact, well-designed studies done in the post-Omicron and post-vaccination period show that COVID is often transmitted far beyond the fifth day of infection. COVID has killed an average of 2000 people every week since Christmas. We continue to learn more about its dangerous long-term effects on nearly every part of the body, including the brain, heart, and reproductive system.” 

COVID cases surge multiple times each year, rather than showing a seasonal trend as with the flu and other respiratory illnesses. Yet the CDC now explicitly ties COVID guidance to policies for seasonal flu. Treating it like flu is inappropriate also because COVID is infectious before symptoms begin – not typical of the flu – and it is more deadly and more often disabling. 

“The proposal would make workplaces and public spaces even more unsafe for everyone, particularly for people who are high-risk for COVID complications,” said Sam Friedman, a Research Professor of Population Health at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “And, to be clear, the CDC’s list of conditions that make someone at high risk for COVID complications is so long that almost all of us qualify. You often hear that people who are immunocompromised and people with heart and lung disease are at increased risk. But so, too, is anyone over 50; anyone with a BMI over 30, asthma, diabetes, or depression; anyone who smokes or is physically inactive; and anyone who is pregnant or recently pregnant. By making policies that put these people at greater risk, CDC is saying that they, their health, their wellbeing, and their lives matter less.” 

The government must not make it even more dangerous for high risk people to go to work, school, or stores, take public transportation, or attend indoor social events or meetings. Many already avoid such exposure risks, and this policy would intensify the exclusion of millions of Americans from full participation in society. “As an older person myself,” Friedman commented, “CDC’s policies on isolation and on other aspects of COVID have made me a second class citizen.”

“Make no mistake:This wrongheaded policy proposal would accelerate the current mass disablement of the American population. Long COVID, which already affects one in nine adults, is a risk in every COVID infection and re-infection,” said JD Davids, co-director of Strategies for High Impact and its Long COVID Justice project. “Neither CDC nor any other Biden administration agency has made significant effort to educate the US public about Long COVID. Instead they stress ready availability of COVID vaccines and treatments, which are harder and harder to come by – while ignoring that the millions with lives shattered by Long COVID include both unvaccinated and vaccinated people. We are now a nation where elders continue to face higher death rates, while their Long COVID is all but ignored; where adults struggle with mounting cognitive, physical and economic challenges; and where an estimated 6 million children with Long COVID face lasting chronic disease, organ damage and altered immune systems. How many more will join us, thanks to this unjust, unscientific and unwarranted shift that encourages rampant COVID infection?”

“CDC is simply planning to bow to corporate executives, safe in their corner offices. They want us all to forgo recovery from illness and shirk our duty of care to others, in order to cater to business interests and a fringe minority of COVID deniers,” comments Chloe Humbert, mental health disability justice advocate and sepsis survivor. “This is obviously going to be putting the high risk at even higher risk. If we treated cancer this way, nobody would get treatment – withholding intervention for most, because some refuse, is outrageously unfair. As former Surgeon General Jerome Adams has pointed out, people can survive high cholesterol and high blood pressure in the short term, but we don’t pretend those risks don’t exist and quit taking precautions.”

Another crucial short-sighted aspect of the CDC proposal is that each case of infection is another opportunity for mutations that could make the virus itself more deadly, more transmissible, or vaccine-evasive. 

Prioritizing business has long been US policymakers’ explicit choice. For example, former top White House advisor on COVID Anthony Fauci said, when the CDC cut recommended isolation to 5 days, “we want to be careful… that we don’t have so many people out…. If you are asymptomatic, and you are infected, we want to get people back to jobs.” But sending those people back to work – including in health care – has meant many spread the virus to co-workers, commuters, customers and patients.

“No one wants to be the one who spreads COVID to others. Many people care and are doing their best to follow the current guidelines as a minimum,” said Kaitlin Sundling, MD, PhD, a pathologist in Madison, WI. “Already the guidelines are sorely lacking for people who are likely still contagious beyond five to ten days – there is no guidance and help for folks who continue to test positive and want to avoid spreading COVID. Reducing isolation is a step in the wrong direction. This will just make a dangerous situation worse.”


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