Latest from the CDC: Shortening quarantine times is likely the next big announcement

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is finalizing a new recommendation about the length of time for quarantines after a person is exposed to the coronavirus. Scientists now believe that a full 14 days may not be needed after all.

This announcement will be cold comfort for all of the people who took the CDC’s guidelines to heart and shut themselves off from members of their household to wait out the two weeks thought to be the incubation period. We are now being told that the CDC has been contemplating a change in the guidance “for weeks”.

“CDC is always reviewing its guidance and recommendations in the light of new understandings of the virus that causes Covid-19, and will announce such changes when appropriate,” a spokesperson for the agency told NBC News on Tuesday. The updated approach will likely incorporate testing.

What the eventual recommendation will be is unknown, but CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in an October briefing that the agency was considering shortening the length of quarantine by up to a week.

At the time, Redfield said researchers were looking at whether “you can use testing during the quarantine to determine if you can shorten the quarantine to seven or 10 days.” Without testing, he said, you could miss a percentage of infectious cases.

“Obviously we don’t want people to be quarantined 14 days unnecessarily,” Redfield said.

But apparently, they aren’t so concerned as to get on it and make the announcement already, right? That means not only will families be apart due to coronavirus guidelines which recommend only members of a household share the holiday together, but if a member of that household is self-quarantining, that person will eat alone while others in the household gather around the table. If the self-quarantining person is over a week into it, he or she can at least share the holiday meal with the family.

It’s as I keep going back to – these numbers being used in order to mandate rules and restrictions on everyone just seems to be arbitrary. Whether it’s a governor shutting down grocery stores or keeping schools closed though the numbers don’t back up fears children are infected and spreading the virus at school. Now the CDC, which has been proven wrong on conclusions about the virus several times, is changing course again. It’s easy to see why so many people question the validity of advice from the experts. COVID-19 fatigue is real and only getting worse as the plague drags on.

Dr. Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC, agreed that it may be necessary to make quarantines more palatable to the general public.

“We need to optimize quarantine,” said Frieden, who currently serves as president of the global public health initiative, Resolve to Save Lives. “We know that the biggest risk is from days four to seven. After that, the risk is lower” for transmission, he said.

The CDC gave an indication of the changing quarantine strategy on Nov. 20 with its updated international travel guidance. The agency advised international travelers to “get tested three to five days after travel and stay home for seven days after travel.”

If the test is negative, “stay home for the full seven days.” Without a test, travelers should stay home for 14 days.

No word yet when the official announcement will be made. Too bad it’s taken so long and likely after Thanksgiving. Let’s hope it comes before Christmas.

In other news from the CDC, a warning about taking cruises came out this week. I don’t know who needs to hear this but all people should avoid travel on cruise ships. When I first read that, my initial reaction was, well, duh. But I avoid cruises even in the best of times. It’s not unusual to read about people getting sick during or immediately after a cruise, which makes sense given the number of people on the ships and their close proximity in such an isolated environment. The CDC now labels cruises as “Level 4: Very High Level of COVID-19”. At the end of October the CDC lifted its months-long ban on cruise ships operating in and out of U.S. ports. It then issued a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order which outlines the steps required to be completed before cruise lines can get permission to restart voyages. These requirements include crew testing and successful “simulated voyages” designed “to replicate real world onboard conditions of cruising.”

While the majority of major cruise companies have canceled voyages in US waters until 2021, some voyages have recommenced elsewhere.

Cruise operations in the Mediterranean restarted over the summer, albeit with reduced passenger capacity and a more limited itinerary.

Earlier this month, SeaDream 1, the first cruise ship to depart from a Caribbean port since the spring, was hit by a slew of Covid cases, despite a pre-boarding testing policy. Seven passengers and two crew members tested positive for the virus.

The outbreak put into doubt the ability of testing alone to combat the spread of coronavirus on cruises.

As SeaDream 1 was operating outside US waters, the ship didn’t have to follow the CDC’s advice on cruising.

SeaDream Yacht Club has canceled all voyages through the end of 2020.

The new CDC guidance specifies that “passengers who decide to go on a cruise should get tested 3-5 days after your trip.” If travelers test negative upon returning home, they should stay home for seven days and if they don’t get tested, the 14-day quarantine rule applies.

Loyal travelers are ready to go. One cruise line reports a list of 100,000 people interested in upcoming cruises.

But despite CDC warnings, many cruise lovers are excited to cruising again. Major cruise line Royal Caribbean said its been inundated by travelers looking to sign up for its trial cruise scheme, which is still in its planning stages.

Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean, said in a Facebook post that 100,000 people had registered interest so far.

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