CDC cuts isolation time for healthcare workers with COVID-19

Healthcare staff with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic can go back to work after 7 days with a negative test, the CDC said. The isolation time can be reduced if there are staffing shortages.

With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shortened the isolation time for staff who test positive for COVID-19.

The CDC issued new guidance Thursday night reducing the isolation time from 10 days to 7 days. Healthcare workers with COVID-19 can return to work after 7 days with a negative test.

In addition, the isolation time can be shortened even further if healthcare organizations are dealing with staffing shortages, the CDC said. In certain circumstances, the CDC said vaccinated healthcare workers could return within 5 days if they are asymptomatic or have mild and improving symptoms.

The CDC also said healthcare workers who are fully vaccinated, including getting a booster, do not need to quarantine at home following high-risk exposures.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the change in guidance is designed to help hospitals deal with the expected surge of new patients due to the Omicron variant. Hospitalizations have been rising around the nation in recent weeks.

“As the healthcare community prepares for an anticipated surge in patients due to Omicron, CDC is updating our recommendations to reflect what we know about infection and exposure in the context of vaccination and booster doses," Walensky said in a statement.

"Our goal is to keep healthcare personnel and patients safe, and to address and prevent undue burden on our healthcare facilities. Our priority, remains prevention—and I strongly encourage all healthcare personnel to get vaccinated and boosted.”

The CDC said its isolation guidelines only apply to healthcare workers.

The Omicron variant is already the dominant variant showing up in new infectons, the CDC said earlier this week.

New York hospitals are bracing for the worst as the Omicron variant is fueling a dramatic spike in new cases. New York has been averaging over 21,000 new daily cases, a 126% increase over the past 14 days, The New York Times reports.

Hospitals across the country have said they've been packed with COVID-19 cases in addition to more patients with other health challenges, including the flu, respiratory viruses and others who delayed care for problems during the pandemic and now need treatment.

However, healthcare organizations across the country said they are dealing with shortages of nurses and other clinical staff. Some say the staff shortages are making the current situation at least as challenging as last winter, and some said the current wave is worse than last year due to a lack of nurses and other staff.

In the last couple of weeks, hospitals in Ohio and Minnesota have taken out full-page advertisements urging people to get vaccinated and warning their ability to provide care is being threatened. The Minnesota ad said, "We're overwhelmed."

Earlier this week, President Biden's administration said it was sending military personnel to assist overwhelmed hospitals during January and February.

Some states, including Maryland, Massachusetts and New York, have directed at least some hospitals to postpone non-urgent procedures to ensure there is enough capacity for COVID-19 patients.

The Biden administration and healthcare experts continue to urge Americans to get vaccinated to avoid straining hospitals even further. About 73% of American adults are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

The Biden administration issued an order requiring most healthcare workers to get the COVID-19 vaccines. The order has faced legal challenges. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear arguments on the vaccine mandate on Jan. 7.