Fauci: CDC mulling COVID test requirement for asymptomatic

  • A health worker administers a dose of a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 7 during a vaccination clinic at the Norristown Public Health Center in Norristown, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

WASHINGTON — As the COVID-19 omicron variant surges across the United States, top federal health officials are looking to add a negative test along with its five-day isolation restrictions for asymptomatic Americans who catch the coronavirus, the White House’s top medical adviser said Sunday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now considering including the negative test as part of its guidance after getting significant “pushback” on its updated recommendations last week.

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Under that Dec. 27 guidance, isolation restrictions for people infected with COVID-19 were shortened from 10 days to five days if they are no longer feeling symptoms or running a fever. After that period, they are asked to spend the following five days wearing a mask when around others.

The guidelines have since received criticism from many health professionals for not specifying a negative antigen test as a requirement for leaving isolation.

“There has been some concern about why we don’t ask people at that five-day period to get tested,” Fauci said. “Looking at it again, there may be an option in that, that testing could be a part of that, and I think we’re going to be hearing more about that in the next day or so from the CDC.” Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said the U.S. has been seeing almost a “vertical increase” of new cases, now averaging 400,000 cases a day, with hospitalizations also up.

“We are definitely in the middle of a very severe surge and uptick in cases,” he said. “The acceleration of cases that we’ve seen is really unprecedented, gone well beyond anything we’ve seen before.”

Fauci said he’s concerned that the omicron variant is overwhelming the health care system and causing a “major disruption” on other essential services.

“When I say major disruptions, you’re certainly going to see stresses on the system and the system being people with any kind of jobs … particularly with critical jobs to keep society functioning normally,” Fauci said. “We already know that there are reports from fire departments, from police departments in different cities that 10, 20, 25 and sometimes 30% of the people are ill. That’s something that we need to be concerned about, because we want to make sure that we don’t have such an impact on society that there really is a disruption. I hope that doesn’t happen.”

The surging variant is ravaging other sectors of the workforce and American life.

Wintry weather combined with the pandemic were blamed for Sunday’s grounding of more than 2,500 U.S. flights and more than 4,100 worldwide. Dozens of U.S. colleges are moving classes online again for at least the first week or so of the semester — and some warn it could stretch longer if the wave of infection doesn’t subside soon. Many companies that had been allowing office workers to work remotely but that were planning to return to the office early in 2022 have further delayed those plans.

The White House Correspondents’ Association announced on Sunday that the number of journalists allowed in the briefing room for at least the first few weeks of the year would be scaled back because of concerns about the fast-spreading virus. Typically 49 reporters have seats for the daily briefing, but only 14 reporters will be seated under the restrictions. The White House limited capacity in the briefing room early in the pandemic but returned to full capacity in June 2021.

While there is “accumulating evidence” that omicron might lead to less severe illness, he cautioned that the data remains early. Fauci said he worries in particular about the tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans because “a fair number of them are going to get severe disease.”

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