Coronavirus file photo stock of closed business unemployment

In this April 22, 2020, file photo, a man wearing a face mask is reflected in the door of a business closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Following the CDC’s announcement Monday that people who test positive for the coronavirus only need to quarantine for five days instead of the previously recommended 10, healthcare workers and hard-hit businesses are reacting with cautious optimism and concern to the shortened quarantine guidelines. 

Hospitals in Louisiana’s capital region in particular have felt the strain of the most recent uptick in cases, with Baton Rouge General and Our Lady of the Lake both reporting an increase in the number of staff calling out sick with the virus.

When team members call out sick, it affects staffing ratios, the number of beds available to patients and the time it takes to admit patients, Baton Rouge General spokeswoman Katie Johnston said, noting that shortening the time for when asymptomatic healthcare workers can return to work may help reduce those issues. 

“So far, people seem to be experiencing less severe symptoms and are getting well quicker with this variant,” Johnston said. “Combined with the updated return to work guidelines, we’re hopeful this will keep more of our staff at the bedside caring for patients.”

CDC officials have explained that the decision to shorten the recommended quarantine period for those without symptoms came from updated data that show people who contract COVID-19 are most infectious two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

Asymptomatic individuals are still required to wear face masks to avoid infecting others. 

However, some experts worry about the implications of a shorter quarantine period.

Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University, said she’s concerned the new recommendations are geared more towards those who work in controlled environments, like hospitals, rather than the general population.

By placing the decision of whether or not to quarantine on the individual, she continued, the likelihood that many people will decide to stop isolating after five days, regardless of symptoms, could increase dramatically and allow for the virus’ further spread.

“I think as far as it being a general population guidance, it’s going to be abused,” Hassig said. “Without checks and monitoring, I think this policy’s going to potentially be very problematic.”

Part of the reason for this is that the list of possible symptoms has become increasingly broad with each new variant, she added, making it more likely that people will simply dismiss minor symptoms.

“I think we may have been better served for that to have been pointed at employment types of environments,” she said. “Asking people outside of some kind of formal monitoring environment to say … (if they’re) symptomatic is going to lead to people, whether they’re symptomatic or not, breaking their isolation in five days.”

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Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, said there could be benefits to the change.

He noted that the guidelines are clear: The infected person must be asymptomatic and ready to return to work as normal.

“I think pivoting to look at the positives — looking at the glass half-full is better here than looking at the glass half-empty,” Chin-Hong said. “You’d be twiddling your thumbs at home and blazing through all those Netflix series doing nothing … and now, if you have no symptoms, just wear a mask and you can go out.”

Hospitals and healthcare experts aren’t the only ones reacting to the new guidelines.

From restaurants to airlines, some companies have struggled to run normally as the highly-contagious Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the U.S., causing clusters of outbreaks among employees.

Over the Christmas weekend, more than 1,000 U.S. flights were canceled and nearly 5,000 delayed in what United Airlines officials attributed to the virus’ “direct impact” on crews and other personnel, according to a company memo first obtained by CNN.

Jim Caldwell, spokesman for the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, said that although Baton Rouge has seen little interruption in flights following the most recent surge, he felt the updated guidelines will continue to keep staff and passengers safe.

“The CDC guidelines and requirements are providing the best safety protocols for the employees and the passengers that are feasible,” he said. “So that will hopefully minimize (risk).”

Jason Randall, who manages a team of employees at a Stine Home & Yard distribution warehouse in Abbeville, said the Louisiana company plans to keep following the previous CDC guidance for quarantining employees after exposure to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

The decision was communicated to managers Tuesday morning via email by human resources staff, he said.

“It’s just for the safety of our employees,” Randall said. “If it had to be 10 days before, why should it change now?”

Megan Wyatt contributed to this report. 


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