CDC considers loosening guidelines for some exposed to virus

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People work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 6, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering changing its guidelines for self-isolation to make it easier for those who have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus to return to work if they are without symptoms.

The public health agency, in conjunction with the White House coronavirus task force, is considering an announcement as soon as Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said.

Under the proposed guidance, people who are exposed to someone infected would be allowed back on the job if they have no symptoms, test their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask, said a person familiar with the proposal under consideration. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss the draft because it had not been finalized and described the proposal on the condition of anonymity.

The new policy is aimed in particular at workers in critical jobs. But it also comes as the Trump administration is eyeing what it calls a “stabilization” in infection rates and looks toward rolling back some of the restrictive social distancing guidelines and restarting the stalled economy.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Wednesday that even as death rates rise, the administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the country amid “glimmers of hope” that social distancing is working to stop the virus’ spread.

“If, in fact, we are successful, it makes sense to at least plan what a reentry into normality would look like,” he said on Fox News Channel.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to do it right now,” he added. “But it means we need to be prepared to ease into that. And there’s a lot of activity going on.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader on the White House’s coronavirus task force, called the upcoming CDC guidance “a very important piece.”

“It looks at degree of exposure and really making it clear that exposure occurs within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes, so really understanding where you shouldn’t be within 6 feet of people right now,” Birx told CBS on Wednesday.

The proposed guidance would follow recommendations made by the CDC that eased self-isolation requirements for front-line medical workers who were exposed to the virus. Under CDC guidance, medical workers who have been exposed to the virus without protective equipment but who have no symptoms can return to work with a mask and temperature checks after 14 days.

Pence on Tuesday said the White House is focusing on the “point of need” for the current situation but also is operating on another track to consider future recommendations for the public.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. In the United States, there have been about 400,000 cases and about 13,000 deaths.

In fashioning the recommendations, the administration appeared to be trying to balance political concerns about wanting to preserve as much normalcy as possible with public health concerns that some infections are being spread by people who seem to be healthy.

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