Feds eye loosening COVID-19 guidelines
Washington – In a first, small step toward reopening the country, the Trump administration could relax coronavirus guidelines as early as Wednesday to make it easier for Americans who have been exposed but have no symptoms to return to work, particularly those in essential jobs.
The proposed new guidelines are in the works even as the nation mourns some 13,000 deaths from the virus and grapples with a devastated economy and medical crises from coast to coast. Health experts continue to caution Americans to practice social distancing and to avoid returning to their normal activities. At the same time, though, they are planning for a time when the most serious threat from COVID-19 will be in the country’s rear-view mirror.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said if the existing guidelines asking people to practice social distancing through the end of April are successful in halting the spread of the virus, more relaxed recommendations could be in order.
Fauci said he was up until the early hours Wednesday morning, sitting in the West Wing with other members of the White House COVID-19 task force. He said they’re trying to dovetail public health concerns with practical steps that need to be in place when the 30-day guidelines end at the end of the month so the nation can “safely and carefully march toward some sort of normality.”
If by fall, things start to return to normal, Americans will still need to wash their hands frequently, sick schoolchildren should be kept home and people with fevers need to refrain from going to work, Fauci said during an online interview Wednesday with the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
People also should never shake hands again, Fauci said, only half-jokingly.
“I mean it sounds crazy, but that’s the way it’s really got to be,” he said. “Until we get to a point where we know the population is protected” with a vaccine.
Fauci said he hoped the pandemic will prompt the U.S. to look at long-term investments in public health, specifically at the state and local level. Preparedness that was not in place in January needs to be in place if or when COVID-19 or another virus threatens the country.
“We have a habit of whenever we get over a challenge, we say, ‘OK, let’s move on to the current problem,’ ” he said. “We should never, ever be in a position of getting hit like this and have to scramble to respond again. This is historic.
“When you see what happened and is happening to New York City, that’s beyond sobering. That’s really terrible.”
Under the expected new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have been exposed to someone who was infected would be allowed back to work if they are asymptomatic, take their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask, said a person familiar with the proposal under consideration. The person described the proposal on the condition of anonymity because the draft had not been finalized.
The guidelines would not be a foolproof guard against spreading infection.
Recent studies have suggested that somewhere around 10% of new infections might be sparked by contact with individuals who are infected but do not yet exhibit symptoms.