The Columbus Dispatch

Isolation guidelines could be expanded

Fauci: Negative test may be recommende­d

- Hope Yen and Aamer Madhani

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.

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 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 disruption, 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. And 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.”

While there is “accumulati­ng evidence” that omicron might lead to less severe disease, 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 will get severe disease.”

He urged Americans who have not yet gotten vaccinated and boosted to do so and to mask up indoors to protect themselves and blunt the current surge of U.S. cases.

The Food and Drug Administra­tion last week said preliminar­y research indicates at-home rapid tests detect omicron, but may have reduced sensitivit­y. The agency noted it’s still studying how the tests perform with the variant, which was first detected in late November.

Fauci said Americans “should not get the impression that those tests are not valuable.”

“I think the confusion is that rapid antigen tests have never been as sensitive as the PCR test,” Fauci said. “They’re very good when they are given sequential­ly. So if you do them like maybe two or three times over a few day period, at the end of the day, they are as good as the PCR, but as a single test, they are not as sensitive.”

A PCR test usually need to be processed in a laboratory. The test looks for the virus’s genetic material and then reproduces it millions of times until it’s detectable with a computer.

Fauci said if Americans take the necessary precaution­s, the U.S. might see some semblance of more normal life returning soon.

“One of these things that we hope for is that this thing will peak after a period of a few weeks and turn around,” Fauci said. He expressed hope that by February and March, omicron could fall to a low enough level “that it doesn’t disrupt our society, our economy, our way of life.”

Fauci spoke on ABC’S “This Week” and CNN’S “State of the Union.”

“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.” Anthony Fauci

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