Tufton points to issues that must be considered in response to CDC’s new isolation guidelines

Local health authorities are examining the most recent recommendation by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Preventi on (CDC) for isolation periods for people in that population who test positive for the novel coronavirus to be halved, but caution that any such consideration here would require an extensive, holistic approach.

“I’ve asked the team to look at it, but it’s not as simple as it appears on the face of it,” Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

“For starters, the airlines would have to agree to accept departing passengers who have had a positive test and [who] have only served five days in quarantine. The airlines have very strict rules around positive customers and, given the nature of this variant strain, which is highly contagious… part of the check has to be whether they are likely to accept that,” Dr Tufton added.

On Monday, the CDC said based on the current science on the spread of the Omicron variant of the virus, and duration of the period when people are most infectious, it was shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to five days, if asymptomatic, followed by five days of wearing a masks around others.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the one to two days prior to onset of symptoms and the two to three days after,” the agency said.

Yesterday, Dr Tufton pointed out that there are countries which require negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to travel. “For the United Kingdom and Canada, for example, you may wait five days, but have to accompany that with a negative test, and suppose the test is not positive, you would have to wait beyond that,” he said.

Tufton stressed that the clinical concerns of a shortened isolation release cannot be dismissed, as a five-day release could contribute to spread of the virus in the Jamaican population.

The health and wellness minister said that while the CDC recommendation is an attempt at a solution to challenges, such as the cost associated with lengthy isolation times, it would have to be accompanied by relaxation of other measures in order to take full effect.

“And some of those measures are not within our control,” he remarked, “but we are prepared to look at it, and I’ve asked the team to look at it.”

The CDC has also updated the recommended quarantine period for people exposed to the novel coronavirus. For those who are unvaccinated or are more than six months after their second dose (or more than two months after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine) and who have not yet received a booster shot, the CDC has recommended five days’ quarantine, followed by strict mask use for an additional five days.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s guidance for releasing COVID patients from isolation is that they must be symptom-free and have two negative PCR results on samples taken at least 24 hours apart. For symptomatic patients the WHO recommends release 10 days after symptom onset, plus at least three additional days without symptoms (including without fever and without respiratory symptoms).

For asymptomatic cases it recommends release 10 days after positive test for COVID-19 and 10 days’ minimum isolation for asymptomatic cases, with release on day 11.

Currently the Ministry of Health and Wellness’s discharge protocol for asymptomatic people with COVID-19 is at least 14 days, and until recovery for symptomatic patients.

As of November 18 fully vaccinated people who have a negative PCR test (no older than 72 hours) prior to entry into the island are not required to do another PCR test after arrival in order to be released from quarantine early. Fully vaccinated individuals with antigen tests are required to either quarantine for eight days, or do a PCR test to be released early from quarantine. The 14-day quarantine remains in place for unvaccinated people.

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