WASHINGTON – New, more relaxed recommendations for masks from federal health officials have overshadowed another major change in government guidelines: fully vaccinated Americans can largely fail to get tested for coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that most people who have received the full course of shots and show no symptoms of COVID-19 do not need to be tested for the virus, even if they are exposed to someone infected.
The change represents a new phase of the epidemic after nearly a year in which testing was the main weapon against the virus. Vaccines are now critical to the response and have drastically reduced hospitalizations and deaths.
Experts say the CDC guidelines reflect a new reality in which nearly half of Americans have received at least one shot and about 40% are completely vaccinated.
“At this point we should be wondering if the benefits of testing outweigh the costs, which are a lot of interruptions, a lot of confusion, and very few clinical or public health benefits.” said Dr. A. David Paltiel of the Yale School of Public Health, who championed widespread testing at universities last year.
Although vaccinated people can still detect the virus, they have little risk of serious illness. And the positive test results can lead to what many experts say are now unnecessary worries and interruptions at work, at home and at school, such as quarantines and layoffs.
Other health experts say the abrupt changes by the CDC on the need for masks and tests have sent the message that COVID-19 is no longer a major threat, although the United States reports that the number of daily cases is close. of 30,000.
“Joe’s normal audience is interpreting what CDC says as‘ This is done. Is over,'” said Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard University, a leading advocate of rapid and widespread testing.
With more than 60% of Americans not fully vaccinated, he believes the detection of asymptomatic people still plays a role, especially among front-line workers who have to deal with the public.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the updated guidelines are based on studies that show the robust effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing disease in various age groups and settings. Even when vaccinated people get COVID-19, their infections are usually milder, shorter, and less likely to spread to other people.
As a result, the CDC states that vaccinated individuals can generally be excluded from routine detection of COVID-19 in the workplace.
This change could eliminate headache tests like the one recently reported by the New York Yankees, when a player and several staff members tested positive on a highly sensitive COVID-19 test, despite being vaccinated.
Baseball officials are debating whether or not to reduce testing for asymptomatic people.
But widespread attempts to give up testing for vaccinated people could face the same dilemma as the CDC’s new mask guidelines: there’s no easy way to determine who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t.
Employers can legally require vaccinations for most workers, although few have proven this power, as vaccines do not yet have full regulatory approval. Even asking employees to disclose their vaccination status is considered intrusive by many labor law specialists.
For now, testing seems to continue unchanged in the places that adopted the practice, from offices to meat packaging plants to sports equipment.
Pork producer Smithfield Foods said it continues to conduct a combination of mandatory and optional testing for employees, depending on conditions in the workplace. Amazon said it will still offer voluntary and periodic testing.
The NBA has indicated that it plans to maintain its testing system for now. The league has been praised for having used rigorous testing to create COVID-19 free “Bubbles” around players, coaches and staff.
Nationally, the supply of COVID-19 tests now far exceeds demand. U.S. officials receive reports of approximately one million tests daily, below a high of more than 2 million in mid-January, although many rapid tests performed at home and in the workplace are not counted.
Consumers can buy 15-minute over-the-counter tests at pharmacies and other stores. This adds to the increased capacity of U.S. labs and hospitals, which increased testing after last year’s overwhelming demand.
According to researchers at Arizona State University, the United States will be able to conduct 500 million monthly tests in June.
Recently this winter, many health experts called for a major testing effort to safely reopen schools, offices and other businesses. But that was before we knew the effectiveness of the vaccine in the real world, how quickly it could be distributed, and whether it would be protected against variants.
“Vaccines have been over-yielding, which is the best news possible,” said Dr. Jeffrey Engel of the State Council and Territorial Epidemiologists. “So now you can start undoing some of these mitigation layers, like using masks and detection.”
Congress allocated $ 46 billion to the latest pandemic relief package to increase testing, especially in schools. But with all Americans 12 and older eligible for vaccinations, many high school and high school students will be fully vaccinated when they return to classrooms in the fall.
And many school systems have already rejected routine testing for elementary students, as children rarely get seriously ill and a positive test can trigger disruptive quarantines.
Some states have even returned federal funds for testing, preferring simpler measures such as the use of masks and social distancing.
Many school officials, Engel said, “You just see detection programs as a huge load that won’t help you.”
Breaking news and more in the inbox