Nurses union calls CDC’s new quarantine guidelines ‘unconscionable’

key takeaways

  • CDC shortens quarantine guidelines for COVID-19 patients to five days without additional testing.
  • Healthcare workers criticized the agency’s decision, saying it endangered the safety of workers and patients.
  • Experts say Omicron appears to have a shorter contagion time than previous variants, which may be the reason for the change in the agency.

Healthcare workers have widely criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) decision to shorten the recommended quarantine period for people infected with COVID-19 from 10 days to five days.

Despite the backlash, the CDC has refused to require people to take another COVID-19 test before ending their quarantine.

Reports of hospital staff being forced to return to work while testing positive for COVID-19 came after the CDC’s recommendations changed.

In a blistering press release, the National Nurses Union (NNU) called the CDC’s decision “unconscionable,” saying it would be “in the face of a more contagious and vaccine-resistant variant of Omicron and perhaps the most damaging Circumstances that weaken quarantine guidance under sexual conditions are still surging.”

Before the change, the union had written to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, urging her to maintain her previous 10-day quarantine guidance.

According to the CDC, the updated recommendation is based on evolving evidence that Omicron has a shorter incubation period, between two and four days.

“The spread of Omicron variants has the potential to exacerbate staffing shortages and increase supply chain challenges that endanger industry, education, and other systems critical to keeping societies and economies functioning,” the CDC wrote.

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Dina Velocci, DNP, CRNA, APRN, president of the American Academy of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA), told VigorTip that the CDC decision demonstrates “an incredible level of fragmentation of rules, ideas and theories” throughout the pandemic.

“I’m sorry to say that we’ve lost trust and confidence in what we’re doing, as long as it’s right,” Veroch said. “We know that as a healthcare provider, if you’re sick, you’re going to stay home until you get better.”

Early in the pandemic, healthcare workers were told to reuse personal protective equipment (PPE) and even replace masks with handkerchiefs. These are examples of the agency’s inconsistent and unscientific decisions jeopardizing the safety of healthcare workers, Velocci added.

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The NNU said the weakening of the CDC’s guidelines “is driven by employers’ desire for workers to return to work hours as quickly as possible, safe or not, to maximize their profits.”

“Let’s be clear: this is about what’s good for business, not what’s good for public health,” NNU president Zenei Triunfo-Cortez said in a statement. “There’s only a shortage of nurses willing to work in unsafe conditions created by hospital employers, and this administration refuses to impose lifesaving standards. So it’s a vicious circle where weakening protections will only put more nurses out of work.”

Dina Velocci, DNP, CRNA, APRN

I’m sorry to say that we’ve lost trust and confidence in what we’re doing, as long as it’s right. We know that as a healthcare provider, if you are sick, you will stay home until you are better.

— Dina Velocci, DNP, CRNA, APRN

Does the CDC’s 5-day quarantine guidance make sense?

WorldClinic’s chief medical officer and former White House physician, William Lang, MD, told VigorTip that the CDC’s decision was based on the number of days someone was still infected with the Omicron variant.

“Everything about Omicron is much faster,” Lang said. In the early days of the pandemic, the transmission period was about eight days after symptoms appeared. He added that Delta’s window then narrowed to six days, while Omicron’s window was even less.

“If you were infected with something other than Omicron, you could still be contagious five days later,” Lang said. “But if you’re wearing a mask, you’re definitely protecting people from infection relatively well.”

Long explained that the CDC conducted a “calculated risk assessment” and the relative risk of reducing quarantine time was “very low.”

But the CDC’s reluctance to request additional testing may be due to a persistent shortage of test kits. Asking for a test after five days could put people out of work and social life for an extended period of time, especially for those who can’t find a test right away, he said.

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Still, some healthcare workers say the value of boosting the economy should not be prioritized over their health and safety, even if the risk is low.

Velocci said the agency needs to pay more attention to healthcare workers in order to deal with the pandemic and take care of patients for the long term.

“We have a group of very sick people. They need to be cared for. It needs to be a skilled workforce, that’s who we are, who we are,” she said. “But when do we say, hey, we can put some boundaries here to protect people so we don’t burn them out. Who’s going to be at the bedside in five years?”

what does this mean to you

The CDC has shortened its guidance for quarantining people with COVID-19 to five days without testing until they end their quarantine. Experts say the Omicron appears to have a shorter contagion time frame than the Delta variant. Still, the shortened guidelines could be detrimental to health care workers who need to return to work and treat patients while they are still infectious.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.