Fauci Throws Support Behind NY Shortening Isolation Time for Essential Workers

Hospital managers say they're wary about staffing shortages for similar reasons -- and far more than they're worried about an influx of people seriously sick with omicron

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New York's decision to modify its return-to-work COVID protocols for essential workers received support from Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday, who said a similar practice could be coming to other cities soon.

As the Empire State faces a record stretch of omicron-fueled virus infections, Gov. Kathy Hochul last week announced a shortening of the isolation window to five days for frontline workers. It's part of an effort to mitigate staffing concerns.

That shortened window applies to essential workers who are both fully vaccinated and asymptomatic as well as to fully vaccinated workers who had mild symptoms that resolved and no fever for 72 hours without fever-reducing medication, Hochul said. They also have to wear masks upon return. Testing is not required.

See the state's complete updated return-to-work guidance for essential personnel here, as well as who is defined as essential personnel.

On NPR's Morning Edition, the president's chief medical adviser called the protocol change prudent, and one that "we're going to be considering" beyond New York.

"You need the health care workers. And when you have them out for the full 10 days, and you do that over a wide swath of people, you can have a situation where you really do not have enough health care workers," Fauci said Monday.

The tweak incorporates the latest guidance from the CDC, which shortened its recommended isolation window for healthcare workers a day ago, and the milder infections with omicron, which are knocking out huge chunks of workforces just because of high positivity rates alone. Many such positive workers don't show symptoms or show mild symptoms and do not need medical treatment to recover.

Hochul has remained adamant there will be no new COVID-related shutdowns in New York amid this explosive omicron surge, and while she acknowledges omicron appears more adept at evading vaccine protection when it comes to infections, state data shows that's not true with more severe cases.

As of Monday, statewide hospitalizations stand at 5,526, the highest total since February 23 and a near 190% increase since Nov. 1 alone. That's still well short of the 7,000 New Yorkers who were hospitalized with COVID this time last year, and the sheer volume of omicron infections will likely translate to some more severe cases by default, especially among the unvaccinated, Hochul says.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says with the available tools to help prevent and fight COVID-19, "there really is no need to panic."
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