by Helen Hertz '24
As we near our second year anniversary of COVID-19 in the U.S., somehow, the general thoughts of our government seem to be the same; “How can we continuously value the economy over our citizens?” While this question almost sounds sarcastic, it is unfortunately a serious question.
The most recent occurrence was December 27, 2021, when the CDC (Centers of Disease Control and Prevention) cut isolation time for contracting COVID-19 in half. This update was still released even after the discovery of a new COVID variant, omicron. While omicron is thought to be a tamer and less worrying variant to contract, this is not necessarily the case. According to World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, "While omicron does appear to be less severe compared to delta, especially in those vaccinated,”said Ghebreyesus, this “does not mean it should be categorized as 'mild’.”
The idea that a variant of a deadly virus is not that big of a deal, does nothing to assure the safety of the elderly and immune-compromised. Two groups of people whose immune systems would have a challenging time fighting against any sicknesses.
The CDC’s new guideline of five-day quarantine, has some even more interesting rules to follow afterwards. After your five-day quarantine is up, you are free to go as you please, as long as you are not showing severe symptoms. “What are severe symptoms?”, you might ask? Severe symptoms include only a fever. Your fever must be gone for 24 hours before you return to your normal life. The last guideline is to wear a mask around others for five days after your quarantine ends.
This applies regardless of vaccination status. The unvaccinated, even though they have a higher positive test rate, are bound to the same guidelines as the vaccinated.
My absolute favorite part of these guidelines are that no negative test is required to return to the outside world. If that seems crazy, it’s because it is.
A negative test is everything. According to an article in the Houston Methodist: Leading Medicine, supported by Dr. Joshua Septimus, the medical director, says a person with COVID can be contagious for 10 days afterwards. Which is what the original quarantine period was, if you are following along.
The alarming part of this situation is that for an additional five days, someone’s parent, sibling, grandparent, or friend could contract the virus. The very same virus that has killed roughly 854,000 and infected 61.4 million in the U.S. alone.
I’m no scientist, which is probably clear in my simplistic explanation of guidelines and safety codes, but I do know enough to realize the CDC cares increasingly more about one thing: the economy.
CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said in an interview with NPR that not only was the quarantine shortened due to scientific evidence, but also to “keep the critical functions of society open and operating.” She is referring to the national shortage of workers in retail jobs and hospitals. Which sounds counterintuitive, because more sickness = even less workers to do their “critical function” for society.
Workers are not disposable, and they cannot be expected to battle off a sickness that attacks even those in the best health. Especially when many of the workers in “essential” jobs interact with those with compromised immune systems and the elderly.
So the CDC’s question is answered. The way you continue to value the economy over human lives is by simply pretending that COVID is disappearing. When in reality, it is spiking.
My specific encounter with COVID is about as maddening as it gets.
Last week, my mother tested positive. She wears her mask in every space necessary, covering all the right places, and has never put herself in the position to be exposed. However, my mother is an educator, and it was quite frankly bound to happen eventually.
She has continued to test positive, ever since last Thursday. However, since her five days are technically up, and she is not symptomatic (aka no fever), her school required her to return to work. If she does not return to work, she will no longer be paid. However, if she does return, she runs the risk of infecting someone else.
My mother has to return to work. She cannot afford to stay at home. Especially being the only adult in the house with a day-to-day job. She is responsible for a mortgage, multiple cars, four children, and every single bill that comes her way. If there was a 10 day period of quarantine, which has not yet passed, she could very well be negative, and not have to worry about infecting a student or co-teacher.
The argument that some would make is that she could still test positive for up to 90 days. But to me it isn't the positive test that worries me. It’s the fact that she could still spread the virus, following Dr. Septimus’ claim.
This is just one example of thousands, but my personal experience with the CDC’s new guidelines have further enlightened me to the fact that the CDC simply does not care about people like my mom.
The CDC is still a part of the government, and just as driven to economic success as the other government agencies. If teachers like my mom don’t go back to work as soon as possible, they are just another statistic on a page of understaffed places of work.
My mother is not a statistic to me. She is my source of food, housing, and joy. It is extraordinarily difficult for a teacher like her, to not be able to care for her own sickness, and also worry about the lives of her students whom she values.
I leave you with this - the CDC, whether you support their new guidelines or not, do not model the realistic life of a real American worker. There is no way a successful economy can rise, if these guidelines continue to simply ignore the severity of COVID, and treat it as if it is a fading problem.
Our second year of COVID may not be our last. Treat guidelines with as much care as possible, and think about the potential person you could be infecting when you step out of quarantine too early.