By Constance M. Gistand, MD, MPH, FACP
The New Orleans Tribune

On Monday December 27, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shortened the previously recommended timeframe for isolation from 10 days to five days for anyone who tests positive for COVID 19 infection if they do not have any symptoms. After remaining symptom free for five days, you can leave your house, however, it is recommended that people who test positive continue to wear a mask for an additional five days to minimize the risk of transmission of the infection to others.

 For vaccinated persons who are overdue for their booster shots and are exposed to someone who is COVID positive, the CDC has also shortened the quarantine to five days with instructions to wear a mask for an additional five days.

For those who are fully vaccinated [i.e. you have completed two dosages of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines within the last 6 months, OR received the J&J vaccine within the last 2 months,OR if you have completed your vaccine series and are boosted], and become exposed to someone with COVID-19, the CDC states that you do not need to quarantine if you do not have symptoms—however it is recommended that you should wear a mask around others for 10 days. 

The CDC has been under pressure to decrease the isolation and quarantine times for asymptomatic persons given the impact this pandemic continues to have on business and industry, healthcare personnel, and many other aspects of society. These changes in recommendations were prompted by the science and data which demonstrates that the majority of COVID transmission occurs in th2 days prior to the onset of symptoms and for two to three days after symptoms. As a result, the CDC has reduced isolation and quarantine times down to five days followed by an additional five days of mask wearing under most circumstances. 

Recent data for South Africa and the United Kingdom demonstrates that vaccine effectiveness significantly decreases months after receiving two dosages of the mRNA (Pfizer and Moderna) vaccines against COVID-19 infection. Once the COVID-19 vaccine booster is obtained, the vaccine effectiveness is restored to approximately 75 percent.  This is why public health officials strongly encourage everyone 5 years and older to obtain the initial COVID 19 vaccine series and everyone 16 and older should obtain a booster as well. 

We are now in the midst of another COVID-19 surge during the height of cold and flu season. The Omicron variant is highly transmissible, spreading quickly, and has the potential to overwhelm health care system. If this occurs, urgently needed health care can be delayed for patients with other pressing health issues such as heart attacks, strokes, and accidents, etc. 

As of Dec 26, 2021, the Louisiana Department of Health announced that the number of hospitalizations in Louisiana doubled in one week in the midst of the current Omicron surge. This rapid spread in transmission is seen all over the country along with a sharp surge in pediatric hospitalizations nationwide. 

Public health experts expect this unfortunate increase in cases to continue into the new year and encourage the public to limit New Year’s gatherings to small groups—preferably groups comprised of less than 20 fully vaccinated persons. Because of the current surge in cases, it is highly advised to avoid large New Year’s Eve gatherings of 30 people or more—especially when the vaccination status of others in uncertain. As this infection continues to spread from person to person, the virus changes or mutates. As a result, other variants inevitably will be produced and spread globally and in our local communities. With continued spread and subsequent mutationsof this virus, we run the risk of having a new and more virulent viral strain emerge that could surpass or supersede our defenses—hence causing more lives to be at risk. 

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