CDC Director: Human behavior played into shortening recommended isolation period for COVID cases

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky acknowledged Wednesday that human behavior played into the latest guidelines for how long individuals with coronavirus should quarantine.

In an appearance on CNN, Walensky was pressed about how and why the CDC reduced its recommended isolation period from 10 days to five days for people who had tested positive for COVID-19 and were asymptomatic by that time. Walensky said most transmission of the virus occurred in the immediate days before and after developing symptoms of the disease.

As she added “people need to get back to work,” Walensky said the behavioral science aspect of it came into play as well.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention speaks during an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Atlanta.  (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention speaks during an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Atlanta.  (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

“From what you’re saying, it sounds like this decision had just as much to do with business as it did with the science,” fill-in anchor Kaitlan Collins said.

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“It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate,” Walensky said, saying studies showed a majority of Americans weren’t isolating when they “need to.” “And so we really want to make sure that we had guidance in this moment where we were going to have a lot of disease that could be adhered to, that people were willing to adhere to and that spoke specifically to when people were maximally infectious.”

Walensky’s remarks and the CDC shift comes amid a surge in cases nationwide, a majority from the omicron variant of the disease. The omicron variant is highly transmissible but many of the cases are mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic, particularly among those who have been vaccinated, Walensky said.

President Biden’s top medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci made similar remarks last week, saying they didn’t want to have “so many people out” with the record-setting number of cases in recent weeks.

Delta Air Lines sent a letter to Walensky this week requesting that the quarantine period for fully vaccinated individuals be cut to five days, calling the earlier guidelines outdated. 

Delta airplanes are seen at John F. Kennedy International Airport after airlines announced numerous flights were canceled during the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant on Christmas Eve in Queens, New York City, U.S., December 24, 2021.

Delta airplanes are seen at John F. Kennedy International Airport after airlines announced numerous flights were canceled during the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant on Christmas Eve in Queens, New York City, U.S., December 24, 2021.
(REUTERS/Dieu-Nalio Chery)

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Walensky came under fire from both sides after her remarks, with progressives who have continued to push for restrictions saying it was reckless and an effort to appease corporations like Delta, while others on the right said the same logic from President Trump and Republicans last year was called dangerous and prioritized profits over people. Others hoped the CDC’s about-face would lead to reconsidering other federal health measures, like encouraging masks on youngsters in school. 

The shortened isolation period seemed reasonable to others, however, given the impact on Americans of staff shortages from COVID exposures, such as flight closings.

“Seems pretty clear that the CDC’s shortened isolation period was, first and foremost, an attempt to stop society from collapsing over what most people will experience as a mild flu,” the Washington Free Beacon’s Aaron Sibarium noted.

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FOX Business’ Paul Best contributed to this report.

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