December 27, 2021

With the onset of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortens its recommended time of isolation for the public. Those who contracted the virus were told to isolate for five days, and as long as they were asymptomatic or without fever for 24 hours, they could end isolation after that period as long as they wore a mask around others. 

For those exposed to the virus, the CDC shortened the recommended quarantine period to five days, followed by five days of strict masking. Those who received a booster vaccine did not need to quarantine, but masking was advised. 

The move was a stark turnaround from guidance set early in the pandemic, when the CDC recommended a 10-day quarantine for those sick with, or a 14-day quarantine for those exposed to, COVID-19. 

December 28, 2021

Backlash to the change in guidance was swift. Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute called the decision “reckless” and that there is “no evidence, no data to support this.” 

Social media was ablaze with “CDC Recommends” memes poking fun at the perceived lack of care about the dangers of the virus to the public. 

Columnist and author Eric Michael Garcia tweeted “The CDC says you can buy another book you won’t read,” while the Classical Studies Memes for Hellenistic Teens parody account tweeted “The CDC Recommends bringing the giant wooden horse into the city, it seems nice.” 

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky defends the decision claiming the agency is making sure “there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science.”

December 30, 2021

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services refused to adopt the shorter isolation time until more data is released. 

January 2022

Walensky received the brunt of the backlash as she became the face of the agency on talk shows and across news networks. She had been taking media training with prominent Democratic media consultant Mandy Grunwald to improve her communications skills, a person familiar with the matter told CNN. But her training has done little to staunch the flow of criticism, with some saying her response is not doing enough to combat vaccine skepticism and misinformation. 

January 4, 2022

After the onslaught of criticism, the CDC updated its COVID-19 isolation recommendations to add guidance on testing. Those who have access to a rapid test could take it toward the end of their five-day quarantine period. The recommendations stop short of advising testing for all isolated people, instead telling the public how to respond to a test result.  

January 5, 2022

The American Medical Association issued a harsh rebuke of the CDC for halving the isolation period and not requiring testing. Gerald Harmon, the president of the AMA, called the new guidance “confusing.” 

“A negative test should be required for ending isolation after one tests positive for COVID-19,” he said in a statement to the CDC. “Reemerging without knowing one’s status unnecessarily risks further transmission of the virus.” 

January 7, 2022

The American Federation of Teachers union criticized the continuing changes to guidance from the CDC around safety guidelines for schools, saying school districts are struggling to adapt. “The CDC is doing a disservice by changing its guidelines every nanosecond,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten.

Conclusion: Miss

The CDC and director Walensky’s inconsistent messaging contradicts almost two years of careful guidance based on science, eroding the trust of an already tired public. 

Takeaways

1. Evidence-based science can be a strong tool when assuaging fears and encouraging vaccination, but it must be followed.  

2. Keeping consistent messaging is pivotal, not only in combating vaccine distrust and misinformation but also in maintaining the public’s trust as an institution for future public health crises.


This article originally appeared on PRWeek US.