The RNC claims that the key “pushback” here came from Democratic special interest groups, like teachers unions. Just another case of politics driving “the science,” right?

Maybe. But actual scientists were also vocal in pushing back last week after the CDC announced its new guidance. Instead of quarantining for 10 days, as had been standard during the pandemic, people infected with COVID were told they could reduce their isolation to five days. As long as their symptoms were “resolving” (whatever that means) by day six, they were free to be around others again provided that they masked up. Conveniently missing from that guidance was any requirement that they test negative before emerging from isolation, which meant millions of still-contagious Americans could soon be out and about, mingling with others, with the CDC’s blessing.

That’s bad science but what choice did the CDC have? Tests are scarce — thanks, Joe Biden — and so requiring people to prove that they’re negative before leaving quarantine was a nonstarter. Quarantining for 10 days was also a nonstarter given the number of workers destined to be sidelined by Omicron this month. The greatest danger from the new variant isn’t that it’ll kill the infected but that it’ll send so many of them to their sickbeds simultaneously that entire industries will break down. Including ones that civilization can’t do without, like police and firefighters.

Even so, doctors and scientists were mortified that the feds’ public-health bureaucracy would eliminate testing from their quarantine rules and skeptical of the various “scientific” reasons for doing so offered by Fauci and Rochelle Walensky. Dr. Eric Topol summed up the expert reaction to the new guidance a few days ago:

Fast-forward to this morning, when Fauci turned up on TV to hint that the CDC would soon be adding a testing requirement after all. The “pushback” from the scientific community worked.

What was the “science” that prompted this remarkable reversal? After all, just last week Walensky insisted that we shouldn’t use lab PCR tests to measure quarantine time since some infected people can still test positive on a PCR as long as 12 weeks after infection. Fauci, meanwhile, argued that the infected are most contagious during their first five days of symptoms and therefore it’s low-risk to let them emerge from quarantine on day six as long as they’re masking. The FDA even weighed in to suggest that rapid tests might do a poor job of detecting Omicron.

America’s top science bureaucrats all seemed to have suddenly concluded that testing just … wasn’t that important, conveniently at the very moment the president’s failure to anticipate the need for tests this winter was at its most glaring. In reality, testing people before they leave quarantine may be even more important after the emergence of Omicron since the infected now seem to be experiencing symptoms sooner in their course of illness. It might have been true that most people were no longer contagious by day six during the Delta wave but it’s anyone’s guess if it’s also true for the new variant.

So, again: What “scientific” data has changed in the past five days to make Fauci and Walensky revisit their conclusion that testing isn’t necessary? Is there any? Did they find some evidence that Omicron patients are routinely infectious beyond day six? Or did the complaints from scientific colleagues and Democratic constituencies like the unions twist their arms?

Relatedly, if the new guidance will call for a negative test before exiting quarantine, how are the infected supposed to get their hands on those tests? Fauci and Walensky conceded last week that not requiring a test was partly due to practical considerations, that too many people will be sick in the next few weeks for the supply to meet the demand. Nothing’s changed in that regard. If infected cops and firefighters can’t rejoin the force until they test negative, what happens when they can’t find a test?

That logistical problem could become a nightmare as it reaches a national scale:

“What we have to understand is that our health system is at a very different place than we were in previous surges,” professor of emergency medicine Dr. Esther Choo told CNN on Saturday. “We have extremely high numbers of just lost health care workers, we’ve lost at least 20% of our health care workforce, probably more.”…

The high number of health care staff out with the virus will also have an impact on Americans’ doctors appointments and could make for dangerous circumstances when people are hospitalized with Covid-19, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor University’s National School of Tropical Medicine, said Friday.

“That’s a different type of one-two punch: people going into the hospitals … and all of the health care workers are out of the workforce,” he told CNN…

In Ohio, the mayor of Cincinnati declared a state of emergency due to staffing shortages in the city’s fire department following a rise in Covid-19 infections, saying in the declaration that if the problem goes unaddressed, it would “substantially undermine” first responders’ readiness levels.

I’m going to guess that the CDC’s updated guidance this week will “recommend” remaining in quarantine until you test negative without “requiring” it. Even with 500 million more rapid tests on the way, there’s no way realistically to get a test into the hands of everyone who’ll need one before the Omicron wave passes. The time for worrying about that was January 2021, not December.

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