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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Health care experts believe the CDC needs to shorten its guidance for a 10-day isolation period for fully vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 — or else hospitals will face even more severe shortages of staff as the Omicron variant takes hold.

The bottom line: "Mandatory 10-day isolation is going to make things really difficult for essential services," tweeted Aaron Carroll, chief health officer at Indiana University.

Driving the news: The CDC considered shortening the isolation period earlier this month, according to the New York Times, but no change has occurred yet. The CDC did not respond to questions by deadline.

  • Given the quick spread of the Omicron variant and the presumably shorter length of infectiousness for vaccinated people, several health care experts believe isolation doesn't need to surpass five days — especially if vaccinated people are returning multiple negative rapid tests.

The big picture: This is especially important for hospitals, which are already short-staffed and can't afford to have large swaths of providers sitting out.

  • "If it turns out that every doctor and nurse who tests positive needs to stay away for 10 days, we could be emptied of health care providers pretty quickly," said Bob Wachter, chairman of the University of California, San Francisco Department of Medicine.

Context: Roughly 70% of health care workers were fully vaccinated as of September.

  • Vaccinated health care workers who get infected with COVID-19 "rarely transmitted to coworkers or patients," according to a retrospective study of four California hospitals during a Delta wave.

In the meantime: Keeping workers infection-free means hospitals have to double down on high-quality masks and other personal protective equipment, which are in better supply now compared with the beginning of the pandemic.

  • "We know that PPE works," said Galit Alter, an infectious disease researcher at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard. "Hospitals were incredible in limiting infections" with PPE, and they need to continue to emphasize it, Alter said.

Tina Reed contributed reporting to this story.

Go deeper

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

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