‘As Much To Do With Business As It Did With Science’: CNN’s Kaitlan Collins Corners CDC Director On New Guidelines

CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins pressed CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky during a Wednesday morning interview, asking whether the newly released guidelines on quarantining and testing those with COVID-19 infection had more to do with business than they did with science.

“I want to start with the change in the CDC guidance,” Collins began, pointing to the announcement that the regular recommended quarantine for those infected with COVID-19 had been reduced from 10 days to five days for asymptomatic people — just half of what it was previously.

“So how did the CDC settle on five days for everyone?” Collins asked.

“We looked at several areas of science here. First, the science of how much how much transmission happens in the period of time after you’re infected. We know that the most amount of transmission occurs in those one to two days before you develop symptoms, those two to three days after you develop symptoms. If you map that out, the five days account for someone between 85% to 90% of all transmission that occurs,” Walensky explained. “So we really wanted to make sure that during the first five days you — were spent in isolation, that’s where most of it occurs.”

“Of course there is this tail end period of time in the last five days where we are asking you to mask. But the other things we were looking at is the epidemiology here. We are seeing and expecting even more cases of this Omicron variant. Many of those cases are mildly symptomatic, if not asymptomatic,” Walensky continued. “And then finally the behavioral science. What will people actually 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 maximally infectious.”

“So from what you are saying, it sounds like this decision had just as much to do with business as it did with the science,” Collins pushed back.

“It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate,” Walensky replied, adding, “We have seen relatively low rates of isolation for all of this pandemic. Some science has demonstrated that less than a third of people are isolating when they need to. We really 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 to specifically when people were maximally infectious. So it really spoke to both behaviors and to what people were able to do.”

Walensky added that the rapidly increasing number of milder cases driven by the Omicron variant was likely to create a situation in which many people felt well enough to return to work — making them less willing to self-isolate even if they might still test positive for the disease — and the shortening isolation period was designed to help better target the days they might be most infectious and encourage them to stay home for that period of time.

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