The CDC surprised many health officials when it announced new isolation guidelines for COVID-19 patients in the middle of the holidays. The new rules say asymptomatic healthcare workers only need to quarantine for five days instead of ten. However, they will need to keep wearing a face mask for another five days when around others. The agency says these rules will help minimize the fallout caused by the new Omicron variant by keeping essential workers on the job.
But the country’s largest nursing groups have come out against the guidelines. They say they need more information about the new variant before implementing these policies.
Changing the Rules
According to the CDC, the change in policy “shortens the time for isolation and quarantine for health care workers infected with or exposed to Covid-19.”
But the American Nurses Association, which represents 4 million nurses from all over the country, isn’t having it. The group said the guidance is “premature and tips toward economic needs as opposed to the health of nurses.”
The ANA believes the “return-to-work guidance for all healthcare personnel under the updated mitigation strategies will endanger the health and safety of health care workers and those they encounter.”
“While staffing shortages are challenging for facilities experiencing a surge in cases, we must prioritize health care workers’ and patients’ health and safety, including allowing for sufficient time off for health care employees,” said ANA President Ernest J. Grant.
“I urge the CDC to reconsider these guidelines and for policymakers to aggressively pursue other strategies to bolster the health care system,” Grant added. “We support the (Biden) administration’s steps to call up more surge teams and use the Defense Production Act to increase access to testing while continuing to use every strategy to increase the number of Americans who are fully vaccinated and boosted.”
The CDC is defending the updated guidelines. Officials from the agency said they are “motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.”
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the guidelines are designed to ensure people can “safely continue their daily lives.”
She said the guidelines are justified because most healthcare workers have immunity from the virus.
“CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses,” Walensky added. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives. Prevention is our best option: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission, and take a test before you gather.”
Nursing unions are taking issue with the change in policy as well.
Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, President of National Nurses United, the largest nursing union in the country, said, “When we first heard about the new guidance that the CDC has come out with, us nurses, we were so appalled, so concerned and so disgusted.”
Triunfo-Cortez said the new guidelines could prolong the pandemic. “Even with a 10-day quarantine, you know, we still have a lot of transmissions and so if we cut that in half, there will be more transmissions, more illnesses and more deaths. And one death is one too many. We cannot afford that,” she said.
“Dr. Walensky should know better that this is not based on science,” Triunfo-Cortez added. “We know that vaccinations, boosters are not just a one-all be-all solution. You have to have all the other precautionary measures, including strict isolation.”
Walensky admitted that the agency made its decision based on a number of factors.
“It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate,” Walensky said. “We have seen relatively low rates of isolation for all of this pandemic. Some science has demonstrated less than a third of people are isolating when they need to.”
But Triunfo-Cortez is pleading with officials to reverse the decision.
“I ask them, our government officials, Dr. Walensky and the public, would you like to be cared for by a COVID infected nurse? Of course not. You don’t want to get sicker. You want to be in the best of health, and the only way to do that is for nurses to stay home when they’re infected with the virus, with or without the symptoms,” she said.
“It’s unconscionable that the CDC would make a decision like this. This is just going to be a disaster. And as nurses, we are very concerned about the health of the public and our health as well,” Triunfo-Cortez added.
“Please do the right thing. Protect the public. Protect the nurses. Protect all healthcare workers and other frontline workers. Because if we are not there for them, there will be no one else taking care of these patients and we do not want to further get them sicker.”