The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be issuing a clarification "any day now" about its recommendation to reduce the isolation time for people who have been exposed to COVID-19, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Tuesday.
"They have received feedback and questions about the role of testing, in shortening that quarantine period, and they're working on issuing a clarification on that," Murthy said on CNN's "New Day." "They're going to speak to the role that testing can play in a situation like reducing isolation.
"What they're trying to do is recognize and incorporate both the evolving science on omicron and on prior variants in terms of how long somebody remains contagious, with the critical need to maintain essential services."
Meanwhile, Murthy said it's "troubling" to see hospitalizations on the rise, but that is a "consequence" of an extremely transmissible variant such as omicron.
"As troubling as this is and as tough as the next few weeks may be, there is something important we have been learning during this experience, and that is that our vaccines, especially when combined with boosters, have remained extremely effective at keeping people out of the hospital and it is saving their lives," said Murthy. "It is why we have been encouraging people to get vaccinated and boosted."
The nation's doctors are also emphasizing the importance of vaccines, said Murthy, pointing out that booster shots are "more important than ever."
But there is a "glimmer of hope" being seen in data from South Africa and the United Kingdom that omicron infections may be lower than those of prior variants, said Murthy, but still, there is a challenge because of the numbers of people being infected.
"We're also seeing a sharp rise and now a dropoff in those countries and hopefully that will be our case as well," he said.
But it's difficult to predict when that drop will happen, said Murthy.
"We're always cautious about predicting what we will experience here in the United States," he said. "COVID made many predictions wrong. What we can do though is focus on taking the mitigation measures and wearing our masks, which we know help reduce spread, getting vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible, and ensuring that in settings like schools, we're using testing to help reduce risk."
Murthy also discussed Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo's call for limiting COVID testing to more "high-value" people, such as the elderly or others who could be more susceptible to serious disease rather than for children, who may not be hit as hard.
"We actually studied testing a lot over recent months, and we know where it is useful," he said. "We know that using testing, surveillance testing in schools can be a very important way to help reduce risk to our teachers, and to our students ... we know people who are asymptomatic can also test positive. So limiting testing to just those who are symptomatic is not entirely consistent with the science we have learned over the last several months."
Murthy said testing is "one of several layers" that can keep the nation's schools open. "We know that getting our kids vaccinated makes a huge difference as well," he said. "That's why when you talk to pediatricians around the country, the vast majority of kids who are being hospitalized now are those who are not vaccinated."
Murthy noted that his son, at 5, is fully vaccinated; but his daughter, who is younger, is not yet eligible, but he and his wife also plan to send her to school because the public school they use in Washington, D.C., has "appropriate layers of precaution" to keep children safe.
"In the next few weeks, schools are going to have to make some challenging decisions here," he said. "We hope that they use the mitigation measures that we know work to keep our kids safe. But I recognize in some cases schools may have to make temporary emergency decisions."
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