Gottlieb says shorter quarantine would capture “vast majority” of cases

Washington — Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said a shortened recommended quarantine period under consideration by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should capture the “vast majority” of coronavirus infections.

“What you want are recommendations that are prudent and practical that people are going to follow,” Gottlieb said Sunday in an interview with “Face the Nation.” “And when you have a 14-day quarantine period, that’s such a long period of time that a lot of people aren’t going to follow that anyway, and it makes it difficult to adhere to recommendations. So putting in place a 10-day quarantine period, even a seven-day quarantine period, you’re going to capture the vast majority of infections within that time frame.”

Under current guidelines, the CDC recommends people quarantine for 14 days after their last contact with a person who has COVID-19. But the health agency is considering shortening that time period. Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters Tuesday there is a “preponderance of evidence that a shorter quarantine complemented by a test might be able to shorten that quarantine period.”

The Trump administration, Giroir said, is “actively working on that type of guidance” and reviewing the evidence.

Gottlieb called the potential move by the CDC a “prudent step” that should have been considered earlier. Most people who are exposed to COVID-19 are going to be infected within five to seven days, he said, though there is evidence that some won’t become infected until 14 days after exposure.

“I think you need to balance the practicality of what you’re recommending with people’s ability and willingness to comply with it,” he said.

The possible change in recommendations from the CDC comes as the nation experiences its latest surge in coronavirus infections, and public health experts expect the number of cases to rise after the Thanksgiving holiday.

With more than 13.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, and hospitalizations spiking, governors and mayors have begun to reimpose restrictions on restaurants and bars in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, while many places require residents to wear masks in public.

Gottlieb said in areas of the northeast and mid-Atlantic, where governors took “more aggressive steps earlier,” he expects infection rates to remain lower than in other parts of the country. He also noted that in other areas where governors declined to implement stringent restrictions, such as mask mandates or closing bars and restaurants, there is little evidence their economies fared better than in places with stricter measures. 

“What’s really keeping consumers home is the virus,” he said. “Why people aren’t going out to eat is they don’t want to go into restaurants and risk getting infected. It’s not the mandates and the state action that’s keeping people home. It’s the infection.”

While coronavirus cases continue to rise and top health experts warn the nation is facing a difficult winter, three pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, have reported positive late-stage trial results for their COVID-19 vaccines. On Tuesday, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is scheduled to meet to discuss allocation of a COVID-19 vaccine and make recommendations on who should receive it first.

Gottlieb conceded the country is “not going to have enough supply to vaccinate everyone” who could be eligible for a vaccine, but predicted the first tranche will go to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. But with only 40 million doses available throughout the month of January if Pfizer and Moderna receive emergency use authorizations from the FDA, he said there is “probably not enough vaccine to work fully through both of those groups.”

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