The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance regarding COVID-19 quarantine isolation on Monday, Dec. 27.
The agency shortened the recommended times that people should isolate after testing positive for the virus from 10 days to five if they don't have symptoms, and if they wear a mask around others for at least five more days.
The CDC also shortened the recommended time for people to quarantine if they are exposed to the virus to a similar five days if they are vaccinated. People who are fully vaccinated and boosted may not need to quarantine at all, the CDC said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci in response to the new guidelines saying, ""if you are asymptomatic and you are infected, we want to get people back to the jobs, particularly those with essential jobs to keep our society running smoothly. So I think that was a very prudent and good choice on the part of the CDC."
But local epidemiologist and Senior Fellow with the East-West Center, Dr. Tim Brown, disagrees.
"My immediate reaction was a negative one. I do not see that this guidance is based on the science at all," Brown said.
According to Brown, there is no evidence that infectivity stops after five days, even in vaccinated people. Saying this move by the CDC is a major mistake from a public health perspective.
"This recommendation is going to put people who are infectious into business settings or into hospital settings, which frankly is one of the most foolish things you could possibly do with something that spreads as quickly and easily as this," said Brown. "So I think they are increasing spread with this decision."
Others, like Fauci though, pointing to the economy and the need to avoid significant disruption to daily life.
"The last thing we want to do is reverse course and make it that much longer for the recovery process," said Sherry Menor-McNamara
Menor-McNamara is the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii. She say this decision by the CDC greatly lessens the challenges businesses are facing.
"This is going to be a huge help for restaurants,' said Hawaii Restaurant Association Chairman, Greg Maples.
According to Maples, lawmakers can't keep shutting things down.
"If you do that you are going to see another 20-30% of restaurants close," said Maples. "Restaurants are hanging on by their fingernails. People forget that while they may be busy now, they are still debt ridden, from all the debt building on, from back rent that they still haven't been able to pay."
Maples is also the Vice President of Culinary Services at the Polynesian Cultural Center and wants to remind people that Safe Access O'ahu is still in place and this new guidance hasn't changed that.
Safe Access O'ahu requiring masks, increased sanitation, as well as vaccinations or proof of negative test for employees and guests.
“Full vaccination” means two weeks have passed after the second dose in a two-dose COVID-19 vaccination series
Menor-McNamara says there still needs to be more clarity and information given regarding the new guidance so that businesses are able to make informed decisions moving forward.
"We are seeing a pattern here that COVID is not going away so how do we adjust our business plan, our own attitude to COVID, adjust our mindsets that this isn't going away and how do we more effectively navigate," said Menor-McNamara.
KITV4 asked Dr. Brown what he thinks would be the best course of action when it comes to quarantine time periods and he said he already thought the initial 10 days was too short.
"The original 14 days based on all the epidemiology was more or less the correct period," said Brown. "We don’t have any good studies on omicron at this point based on what natural course of infection is."
So what does need to happen as the state, country and world continue to fight the pandemic and have the economy recover?
"I realize people want a magic bullet. They want a single thing that will protect them, but with this virus there is no single thing that will protect you," said Brown.
Here are some recommendations from Brown to keep you and your loved ones safe:
- Important to mask and improve mask quality;
- Social distance. Avoid being close to people where you are sharing air.
- Avoid crowds;
- Improve the ventilation where you live and work (open doors, open windows);
- If gathering, gather outside;
- Test, test, test! Pointing that testing needs to be expanding and improved upon;
- And act on the test results.
"What we need to do is stop thinking that the new normal is the old normal," said Brown. "The new normal is going to involve masking every time there is significant volume of the virus in our community. The new normal will also require improved ventilation."
The Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association also provided a statement on the new CDC guidance:
“The CDC’s latest guidance—shortening the recommended isolation time from 10 days to five, to be followed by five days of mask usage when around others—was made after close consideration of the data surrounding COVID-19 transmission and the Omicron variant. HLTA has always stood by the recommendations of agencies like the CDC and the WHO, and we feel that this is a positive development that comes due to a better understanding of the virus itself. We are hopeful that the CDC’s new guidance will be utilized by other countries to determine the length of quarantine necessary after international travel, eventually allowing Hawai‘i’s international tourism market to begin its recovery.” - Mufi Hanneman, President & CEO