Fauci: Shortening COVID-19 quarantine for essential workers under ‘serious consideration’

The country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said it’s possible that the federal government could shorten the quarantine or isolation period for people outside the health care sector who have been exposed to COVID-19. 

"Because there are a lot of people in society that are essential for the smooth running of the infrastructure of our society," Fauci told CNN Monday. "So the idea about cutting down the period of quarantine for people who have been exposed, and perhaps the period of isolation for people who have been infected, is something that is under, I would say, serious consideration."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it will be cutting the quarantine time for health care workers to seven days after they test positive for COVID-19. Healthcare workers who have received all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses, including a booster, do not need to quarantine at home following high-risk exposures.

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For non-health-care workers, current CDC guidelines still recommend unvaccinated Americans quarantine themselves for 14 days after exposure to COVID-19 while watching for any cold-related symptoms. Vaccinated Americans aren’t recommended to quarantine themselves unless they have symptoms but still should get tested. 

The CDC’s new guidance, which is only applicable to health care workers, could change depending on staffing shortages. Additionally, designated crisis workers could face no restrictions.

The CDC’s new recommendation comes amid the outbreak of the highly-contagious omicron variant which has been linked to staffing shortages at a number of U.S. airlines and other companies. Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections earlier this month.

COVID-19 cases are sharply on the rise in the U.S. According to the CDC, the 7-day moving average of positive cases is above 176,000. That’s an uptick from late October where the average hovered around 67,000.

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Fauci warned on Monday that with the rise of the highly contagious omicron, "it’s going to get worse before it gets better."

"We don’t expect things are going to turn around in a few days to a week. It likely will take much longer than that, but that’s unpredictable," he said on ABC.

Cities and states are once again reinstating mandates. 

New York City’s sweeping mandate requiring nearly all businesses, from multinational corporations to corner grocery stores, to ban unvaccinated employees from the workplace took effect Monday amid a spike in infections.

However, the omicron variant is offering more hints about what it may have in store as it spreads around the globe: A highly transmissible virus that may cause less severe disease, and one that can be slowed — but not stopped — by today’s vaccines.

Vaccines in the U.S. and around the world do not offer as much protection against omicron as they have against previous versions of the coronavirus. However, vaccines have been shown to still help protect against hospitalization and death. 

And lab tests show while two doses may not be strong enough to prevent infection, a booster shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine produces virus-fighting antibodies capable of tackling omicron.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.