Thousands of flights within the U.S. have been canceled since Christmas Eve and airlines are blaming both weather and covid-19 infections and exposures among their employees. Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Monday that the Biden administration should “seriously consider” a vaccine requirement for domestic flights—currently, federal rules don’t even require people flying within the US to show a negative test before boarding, which is a wild fact to read. But Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said yesterday that a vaccine mandate for flights “is not something we’re revisiting right now.” The CDC did recently take a different step: It cut quarantine time in half from 10 days to 5 for people with asymptomatic cases and said people should wear a mask for days 6-10, a time period when they can still transmit the virus, but didn’t require a negative test to leave isolation.
The Washington Post reports that top health officials were concerned that the explosion of the omicron variant would affect essential businesses and services like grocery stores and fire stations. The CDC chose to shorten the isolation period to when people are most infectious in order to minimize “limitations in society,” Walensky told the Post. This is all sounding a bit like President Trump saying “the cure cannot be worse than the problem itself” both early in the pandemic and after recovering from the virus himself.
Health experts and unions for nurses and flight attendants slammed the change, saying employers would force people back to work when they’re still infectious and worsen the spread. Coincidentally, the announcement came days after Delta Airlines’ CEO and other major airlines asked Walensky to shorten the CDC’s quarantine time for breakthrough cases, though Delta suggested employees only return after a negative test. (The UK also recently shortened its isolation period, but from 10 days to seven, and with negative rapid tests on days 6 and 7.) Walensky is doing press hits today defending the shorter quarantine by noting that people with asymptomatic breakthrough cases may not comply with a 10-day isolation and denying that the nationwide shortage of at-home rapid tests factored into the decision not to mandate testing. Oh for sure, man.
Harvard epidemiologist Justin Feldman told Gizmodo that the slashed isolation period “is a clear case of prioritizing corporate profit over public health, and it’s happening at a time when many hospitals are starting to become overwhelmed with covid-19 patients.”
The CDC’s corporate bent is also evident in two horrifying PSAs that essentially say: get vaccinated or you’re fucked. The first reminds people that they could end up with a giant hospital bill since many insurance companies are no longer waiving the cost of covid treatment.
The second suggests that if you get sick but aren’t hospitalized, you could miss shifts at your hourly job which doesn’t offer paid time off.
Yes, more than 205 million Americans are fully vaccinated, but omicron is evading that protection, and a much smaller number have gotten booster doses, and there are obviously more than 100 million unvaccinated people. As long as health officials let cases skyrocket, more and more people will die from covid, but also from other conditions when they couldn’t get a hospital bed.
Many people were hopeful that the Biden administration would prioritize people’s health rather than taking the Trump tack of letting hospitals fill up in the name of saving businesses and the stock market, but it seems that optimism was misguided.