CDC’s shortened isolation will ease staffing issues, companies say

New federal guidelines shortening recommended isolation periods for many infected Americans will bring relief to airlines and other businesses struggling with staff shortages, the companies said on Tuesday, but worker representatives warned the move could pushing some employees back to work too soon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reduced the number of days infected patients must remain in isolation – and, for many workers, isolated – to five days, from 10. Anyone leaving isolation must be symptom-free and must wear a mask when near others for an additional five days.

The updated policy, which came a day before President Biden lifted travel restrictions on southern African countries, has been adopted by representatives from industries such as airline, food and retail. detail. The Omicron variant of the coronavirus tore up already understaffed areas, temporarily closing restaurants and causing the cancellation of thousands of flights that disrupted Christmas travel. More than 1,000 flights “within, to or from the United States” were canceled Tuesday, according to FlightAware, which provides aviation data.

“The aviation workforce is critical to sustaining the operations of air transport and cargo supply chains,” the Airlines for America business group said in a statement. “The decision is the right one, based on science. “

But the Association of Flight Attendants, a union that represents nearly 50,000 flight crew members, had argued that employees should not be expected to return to work unless they show up. no symptoms and they tested negative.

“Already, the lack of paid sick leave is putting pressure on workers to come and work sick,” said Sara Nelson, the union’s international president. “Companies that don’t recognize this with paid sick leave, or pressure workers to come and work sick or be disciplined, leave their workers and customers at fault. “

Delta Air Lines, which last week urged the CDC to reduce the recommended isolation time, said Monday it had already started adopting the new advice as company policy.

“The updated guidelines provide more flexibility for Delta to schedule crews and employees to support a busy holiday season and a sustained return to customer travel,” the airline said in a statement.

An American Airlines spokesperson referred questions about the CDC’s new recommendations to Airlines for America. United Airlines did not respond to a request for comment.

Representatives from two other industries that employ large numbers of workers who interact with the public and have struggled with staff shortages for months have welcomed the CDC’s decision.

The Food Industry Association, whose members include large grocers as well as manufacturers, said the revised guidelines would help the industry “responsibly respond” to its labor shortage. The trade group urged “federal, state and local governments to work on the same CDC playbook.”

Stephanie Martz, executive director of the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, called the change “good news.”

Many political experts who had urged the CDC to update its isolation guidelines had argued that a new approach should incorporate rapid testing, as in Britain. In the United States, demand for testing has skyrocketed as manufacturers continue to scramble to increase production and distribution.

Dr Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, said testing was needed due to the vagaries of the coronavirus infection.

“I don’t see how this could go forward without having testing, with the assurance of at least one negative rapid antigen test, before it goes out,” Dr Topol said. “This flies in the face of science, and the fact that the time it takes people to clear their virus is quite variable.”

Emma Goldberg contributed reports.

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