Jan 17, 2022 - Health

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Picture of Rochelle Walensky

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.

What she's saying: "I think what I have not conveyed is the uncertainty in a lot of these situations," Walensky said, adding that she is committed to communicating CDC guidance more clearly.

The big picture: The CDC recently changed its isolation guidance to say that the people who have tested positive for the virus should isolate for at least five days, and did not initially recommend that a negative COVID test be the condition to end isolation.

  • Walensky said the new guidance was based on over 100 papers on the risks of the Alpha and Delta variants, before Omicron became the dominant strain.
  • As a result, the agency faced mounting criticism from health experts who say ending isolation after five days risks putting those contagious in contact with others.

The CDC later added testing recommendations saying that anyone ending isolation who "has access to a test" and "wants to test" can do so. This new language was added after it was clear that people wanted guidance on how to use rapid tests to check if they're infectious.

  • Walensky told the Journal, however, that rapid tests were not intended be used to test out of isolation, and that negative tests could work to measure infectiousness if they're used repeatedly over several days.
  • If you’re positive — you should probably stay at home,” Walensky said. “But a negative — that doesn’t mean you’re not contagious. And we needed to be very clear about that.”

Go deeper: Another point of confusion over COVID guidance

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