JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – New cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to their highest level on record at over 265,000 per day on average, a surge driven largely by the highly contagious omicron variant.
The Miami Herald reported Wednesday that Florida surpassed 4 million cases, and Florida hit a new record for daily cases on Tuesday with 46,900 new cases in a day. Since Christmas, the state’s seven-day average of daily cases has surpassed previous records set during last summer’s surge, rising to 29,400 infections.
The White House COVID-19 Response Team on Wednesday stood by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations to cut isolation restrictions for asymptomatic Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days and shorten the time that close contacts need to quarantine.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, explained what led to the decision.
“This updated guidance will help to ensure that hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities can safely stay open and remain appropriately staffed both to handle hospitalizations from COVID-19 and to make sure we continue to make the necessary care for those experiencing heart attack, stroke and other illnesses,” Walensky said.
Even though the omicron variant is more contagious, Walensky said people are most contagious generally in the one to two days prior to the onset of symptoms and the two to three days after. After five days, if someone has no symptoms, then wearing a mask should lower the risk of transmission from there.
Missing from the new guidance is requiring a negative COVID-19 test in order to return back to work.
“We do know that certainly a PCR, you can stay positive in your PCR for a long period of time,” Walensky said. “But with regard to the question of your antigen is: We do not know how well those antigen tests perform at day five in detecting transmissibility. And it is for that reason that we would say, even if you had a negative test, we would want you to mask, and even if you had a positive test, we would also want you to mask. And therefore, given that these antigen tests are not authorized for use in this way, we did not recommend them at that time.”
PCR tests are the ones that take about a day or two to get results. They are considered the gold standard for testing. It’s possible that these tests can still detect the virus in a person even a month after they get sick. Walensky said that’s why they opted not to add that to the guidelines and instead add the five-day masking period.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.