What the streamlined CDC COVID guidance means for veterinary staff
You don’t have to quarantine if exposed, but don’t throw away those masks quite yet.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines last week, dropping the recommendation that Americans quarantine themselves if they come into close contact with an infected person.
The agency also said that people no longer need to stay at least 6 feet away from others.
The changes are driven by a recognition that an estimated 95% of Americans 16 and older have acquired some level of immunity, either from being vaccinated or infected, according to CDC officials.
“We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools—like vaccination, boosters, and treatments—to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19,” said Greta Massetti, PhD, MPH, an author of the CDC COVID guidelines. “We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation.
To see how the streamlined CDC guidance might affect veterinary hospital staff, NEWStat reached out to veterinary epidemiologist J. Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM, a contributing reviewer of the 2018 AAHA Infection Control, Prevention, and Biosecurity Guidelines and a co-author of the 2022 AAFP/AAHA Antimicrobial Stewardship Guidelines.
Weese told NEWStat that the CDC’s changes don’t mean that we’re out of the COVID woods, and notes that the streamlined guidelines aren’t universally accepted—an associate professor in the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Guelph (UG) in Ontario, Canada, Weese noted that Canada hasn’t relaxed their COVID guidance to the same degree as the US, even though “our [infection] rates have stayed lower than the US and our vaccination rates are higher.”
Bottom line: Weese said hospitals should remain cautious. “What [hospitals] do has to be based on things such as COVID rates in the area,” as well as what other safety measures they’re taking; how well they can use other mitigation measures like good ventilation; risk status of people in the clinic—and their family members—and staff vaccination status.
Another consideration is the possible impact of COVID infections on staffing levels: In addition to the obvious health consequences, how well can the hospital handle multiple people being out sick? “Since most hospitals are pretty swamped, that’s a major issue,” he added.
The updated CDC guidance does not call for dropping all precautionary measures. For example, people who have been exposed—but not confirmed to be infected—should still wear a mask and get tested at least five days after exposure.
People who test positive should continue to isolate immediately and stay home for five full days if positive.
So how should veterinary hospitals react to the streamlined CDC guidance?
“Without panic or celebration,” said Weese. He called the new guidance It’s an evolution in the approach and one that represents a step towards a return to normal. “Whether it’s too early or not is the question.”
As for how it could affect staffing shortages, Weese said that’s hard to say: “It makes it easier for people to return to work, but it also makes it easier for those people to infect co-workers. It could go either way.”
Weese stressed that the CDC’s streamlined guidance should not be taken to mean that the pandemic is over: “This change is just one approach by one group,” he said. “It’s hopefully another step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go before COVID is fully behind us.”
The CDC’s Massetti echoed Weese: “This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives.”
And the streamlined CDC guidelines aren’t written in stone—they could change again if circumstances warrant: Weese says a new COVID wave is “likely” in the coming months as students return to school and cold weather drives people indoors.
“The fall will be the challenge,” he said.
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