Omicron Variant, Boosters and Vaccine News: Covid-19 Live Updates

Credit…Cheriss May for The New York Times

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention faced yet another setback Sunday for its confusing message about the agency’s new isolation and quarantine guidance.

New CDC guidelines, released Dec. 27, say that people infected with the coronavirus can end isolation, in most cases, after five days instead of 10 and do not need a negative test result. virus to do so. But some experts have said that five days could be too short and that letting people mix with each other before testing negative for the first time is risky.

On Sunday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the agency’s director, answered questions about her decision to remove the test requirement, arguing that antigen tests are less sensitive to the Omicron variant, which is increasing across the United States, than to previous versions of the test. virus.

“We have an ever-evolving science with an ever-evolving variant, and my job is to provide up-to-date guidance in the context of rapidly increasing cases,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

But other experts disagreed with that assessment, saying antigen tests, while flawed, only missed Omicron cases very early in the course of the infection.

“I think they are the foundation of our long-term strategy to control this virus,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The debate over the tests reflects a broader disagreement over the best way to deal with a virus that seems to be here to stay. With only about 63 percent of the population fully vaccinated, the virus could spread large outbreaks and overwhelm hospitals for the foreseeable future.

On Thursday, six prominent health experts advising President Biden’s transition team called for a new strategy to help Americans live with the virus for the long term. Among the recommendations: easy access to affordable testing, more aggressive use of vaccine mandates, “full, digital and real-time” data collection by the CDC, and faster development of vaccines and treatments.

It seemed unlikely that the Supreme Court on Friday would allow a cornerstone of the Biden administration’s plan to combat the virus. While the court may greenlight a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers at federally funded facilities, it seemed skeptical about the legal basis for a broader mandate that would affect 84 million American workers.

That mandate would force all companies with 100 or more employees to require weekly vaccinations or tests and masks.

“The Supreme Court has to recognize that Covid in the workplace is a real threat to health,” said Dr. Zeke Emanuel, one of the authors of the proposed pandemic strategy and a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. Vaccine mandates are the best protection against the virus, particularly for front-line workers, he said.

“It seems to me that it is very wrong for the Supreme Court to eliminate that in the middle of an emergency,” he added.

Dr. Walensky did not respond to a question about the usefulness of a vaccine mandate, but noted that unvaccinated children and adults are at significantly higher risk of contracting the virus than people who are fully vaccinated and boosted.

In children 4 years old and younger, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, hospitalizations are at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic, the CDC reported Friday.

“The vast majority of children who are in the hospital are not vaccinated,” Dr. Walensky said Sunday. “And for those children who are not eligible for vaccination, we know that they are more likely to get sick from Covid if their family members are not vaccinated.”

Omicron is milder than previous variants, and even young children appear to be less likely to need ventilators than those admitted during previous waves, doctors have said.

Dr. Walensky also cleared up the confusion about the number of children hospitalized with Covid. On Friday, Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrongly said that 100,000 children with Covid had been admitted to hospitals across the country. The actual number is closer to 3,500, Dr. Walensky said.

“While pediatric hospitalizations are increasing, they are still roughly 15 times less than elderly hospitalizations,” he added.

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