CDC Director Walensky Says Shortening Isolation Guidance Was Partly Due To What Americans Could ‘Tolerate’

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Shelby Talcott Senior White House Correspondent
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that new guidance shortening the isolation time for asymptomatic, COVID-positive individuals was determined based on “what we thought people would be able to tolerate.”

The CDC announced Monday that it was shortening the recommended isolation period from 10 days to 5 days for asymptomatic Americans positive for COVID-19. Following the five-day isolation period, the CDC added a recommendation of mask-wearing while around others for an additional five days.

The CDC, in its press release announcing the changes, said it was “motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.”

Walensky mentioned “the science” again on Wednesday before elaborating on the rationale behind changing the guidance.

“It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate,” Walensky told CNN. “We have seen relatively low rates of isolation for all this pandemic. Some science is demonstrating less than a third of people are isolating when they need to. And so, we want to make sure we have guidance in this moment where we were going to have a lot of disease that could be adhered to, that people were willing to adhere to, and that spoke specifically to when people were maximally infectious. So It spoke to both behaviors as well as what people were able to do.”


Walensky went on to say that the CDC’s previous 10-day isolation guidance “was conservative.” She argued that with “so many more cases” currently that are “asymptomatic [or] mildly symptomatic,” people will be able to feel well enough to go to work and thus the change came now instead of weeks ago. (RELATED: CDC Shortens Isolation Rules For COVID-Positive Health Care Workers Amid Fear Of Understaffed Hospitals)

“We are seeing and expecting even more cases of this Omicron variant,” Walensky said. “Many cases are mildly symptomatic, if not asymptomatic. And the behavioral science. What will people do when they get back to work? If we can get them to isolate, we want to make sure they are isolating in the first five days when they are infectious.”

Walensky’s comments about the “behavioral science” playing a role in the CDC’s decision-making had not been mentioned previously. When the CDC first announced the change Monday, the director focused solely on the science behind the decision, saying in a statement that the recommendations are “based on what we know about the spread of the virus.”

“The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society,” Walensky said in Monday’s statement. “CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses.”

“These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives,” she added at the time. “Prevention is our best option: get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high community transmission, and take a test before you gather.”