CDC cuts isolation time for Americans who test positive from 10 days to 5. Latest COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cut the amount of time it recommends people should isolate after testing positive for the coronavirus, reducing the number of days from 10 to five. 
Health officials similarly reduced the amount of time a person should quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tests positive. 
The changes come amid a surge in cases spurred by the omicron variant and concerns about staffing shortages at hospitals, airlines and businesses across the country. Research has suggested omicron, while more infectious, causes milder illness. CDC officials say the new guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the country is about to see a lot of omicron cases.
“Not all of those cases are going to be severe. In fact many are going to be asymptomatic,” she said Monday. “We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science.”
Last week, the agency loosened rules that had called on health care workers to stay out of work for 10 days if they test positive. The new recommendations said workers could go back to work after seven days if they test negative and don’t have symptoms. And the agency said isolation time could be cut to five days, or even fewer, if there are severe staffing shortages.
The CDC’s guidance on isolation and quarantine has seemed confusing to the public, and the new recommendations are “happening at a time when more people are testing positive for the first time and looking for guidance,” said Lindsay Wiley, an American University public health law expert.
Isolation recommendations are for those who are infected with the coronavirus and start on the day a person tests positive. The agency recommends isolating for five days and going back to normal activities if a person is not showing any symptoms after that period. 
Quarantines are defined differently, because the term refers to those who are in close contact with someone who tests positive. The CDC had recommended that unvaccinated people who come into close contact with someone who tested positive should quarantine for 10 days. The agency had said those who were vaccinated could skip a quarantine.
The CDC is now recommending those who are vaccinated and received a booster shot can skip quarantining if they wear a face mask for at least 10 days. If a person is vaccinated and has not gotten a booster, or if they are partly vaccinated or not vaccinated at all, the CDC recommends a five-day quarantine, then wearing a mask in public for an additional five days.
Also in the news:
► Apple is temporarily not allowing customers to shop inside its retail stores in New York City as COVID-19 cases surge.
► Minnesota has become the 18th state to report at least 1 million coronavirus cases, Johns Hopkins University data shows.
► Up to 300 Massachusetts National Guard members started fanning out across the state Monday to provide much-needed help to dozens of understaffed hospitals facing a surge of COVID-19 patients.
► The state of Connecticut plans to distribute 3 million at-home COVID-19 rapid tests and 6 million N95 masks to residents beginning as soon as Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 52.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 817,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 281.1 million cases and 5.4 million deaths. More than 204 million Americans – 61.7% –  are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC
📘 What we’re reading: In some counties in the U.S., only half of the spike in deaths during the pandemic has been attributed to COVID-19. Researchers say that points to a massive undercount.
Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.
Texas has run out of a key treatment to fight the omicron COVID-19 variant, which now makes up 90% of the virus cases in the state.
On Monday, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced that its regional infusion centers in Austin, El Paso, Fort Worth, San Antonio and The Woodlands have run out of the monoclonal antibody sotrovimab.
That antibody has been shown to be effective against the omicron variant. Other monoclonal antibodies have not been shown to be effective against omicron.
The state does not expect to receive another shipment of sotrovimab from the federal government until January. 
– Nicole Villalpando and Roberto Villalpando, Austin American-Statesman
A little champagne and a kiss are fine, but Americans should stay away from big parties this New Year’s Eve, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.
Fauci said in an interview on CNN that people should avoid the gatherings where they don’t know the vaccination status of all the guests. The omicron variant is fueling another infection surge, and crowded indoor parties could accelerate spread.
“When you are talking about a New Year’s Eve party, where you have 30, 40, 50 people celebrating, you do not know the status of the vaccination – I would recommend strongly, stay away from that this year,” Fauci said. “There will be other years to do that, but not this year.”
President Joe Biden conceded Monday that his administration has not done enough to provide access to coronavirus testing and promised to step up the effort. Earlier this month the Biden administration touted a plan to combat the latest surge that included 500 million free tests. But those test haven’t begun rolling out yet, and demand for tests before holiday gatherings set off a rush that depleted stocks in most pharmacies and other locations.
“Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do,” Biden said during a call with the White House COVID-19 Response Team and several governors. “We’re doing it.”
He said that starting in two weeks private insurance will reimburse people for the cost of at home test, and that the government will provide access to free tests for people without insurance.
Airlines canceled and delayed thousands more flights Monday amid a staffing crisis caused by the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant. This after more than 1,500 flights within, into or out of the U.S. were canceled Sunday and over 6,000 delayed, the tracking website FlightAware reported. Several airlines said the scheduling issues were caused by staffing problems tied to COVID-19. 
JetBlue spokesperson Derek Dombrowski said the airline has seen an “increasing number” of sick calls because of the fast-spreading omicron variant. The company entered the holiday season with the highest staffing levels since the start of the pandemic, he said. He warned that additional cancellations and delays “remain a possibility.”
The omicron variant is proving to be much more contagious than the delta variant; omicron now accounts for more than 70% of new cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.
FLIGHT CANCELED? What airlines owe you when flights are canceled, delayed
Large-scale, regular testing remains rare in the child care world, but the idea is gaining traction as omicron works its way into communities. Families are fighting to keep their kids in classrooms, which at the early learning level often stay open during winter break. The upside to regular testing extends far beyond the classrooms and teachers, experts say. Read more here.
“Every time a classroom of 12 kids has to close down because of an outbreak, that’s at least 12 parents who can’t go to work,” said Sarah Muncey, co-president and chief innovation officer of Neighborhood Villages, an organization that advocates for early education reform. If “we have multi-pronged testing strategies … we can live through this winter and keep child care and, therefore, the economy open.”
Alia Wong
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said the U.S. should consider a vaccination mandate for domestic air travel, signaling a potential embrace of an idea the Biden administration has previously eschewed, as COVID-19 cases spike.
Fauci, the president’s chief science adviser on the pandemic response, said such a mandate might drive up the nation’s lagging vaccination rate as well as confer stronger protection on flights, for which federal regulations require all those age 2 and older to wear a mask.
“When you make vaccination a requirement, that’s another incentive to get more people vaccinated,” Fauci told MSNBC. “If you want to do that with domestic flights, I think that’s something that seriously should be considered.”
The Biden administration has thus far balked at imposing a vaccination requirement for domestic air travel. Two officials said Biden’s science advisers have yet to make a formal recommendation for such a requirement to the president.
The U.S. currently mandates that most foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, though citizens and permanent residents only need to show proof of a negative test taken within a day of boarding.
Private employers operating in New York City must require COVID-19 vaccinations for their workers beginning Monday under a sweeping mandate aimed at curbing a spike in the virus. The order affects an estimated 184,000 businesses, and those that do not comply could face fines starting at $1,000. But Mayor Bill de Blasio has said imposing penalties would be a last resort. Unvaccinated workers need not be fired but must be kept out of the workplace.
Employers have to verify and keep a record of each worker’s proof of vaccination. Workers who have only gotten one shot will have to get a second one within 45 days. Companies must display a sign affirming they are complying with the rule “in a conspicuous location,” under the city’s mandate.
Even with testing disruptions from the Christmas holiday, America still reported dramatically worse COVID-19 numbers on Sunday.
 In just the most recent 17 days the country has reported more new coronavirus cases than it had in all of November, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. In the week ending Sunday, the country reported 1.39 million cases – nearly 200,000 per day.
That number is up 47% from a week earlier, and up 65% from two weeks earlier. Christmas disruptions and limited access to testing mean the real number is likely worse.
New case records were set in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico.
Mike Stucka, USA TODAY
COVID-19 cases are continuing to emerge on cruise ships. Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and MSC Cruises are among the companies dealing with clusters of cases on board, spurring itinerary changes and protocols to mitigate spread.
The CDC has been working with global public health experts and industry partners to learn about omicron, spokesperson Dave Daigle told USA TODAY last week. “We are still learning how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and how well available vaccines and medications work against it,” he said.
The likelihood of contracting the coronavirus on a cruise is “high because the virus spreads easily between people in close quarters aboard ships,” Daigle said.
MSC Seashore, which was scheduled to disembark passengers Thursday, sailed with 28 passengers who tested positive for COVID-19. The CDC is investigating Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas ship as it sails with more than 50 cases of coronavirus onboard.
– Morgan Hines, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press


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