The fresh, more relaxed mask guidelines from federal health authorities have almost completely overshadowed another big shift in government guidance: fully vaccinated Americans will largely avoid being screened for the coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that certain patients who have undergone the full course of vaccines who have no COVID-19 signs do not need to be tested for the infection, even though they have been exposed to someone who is sick.
The move marks a new step in the disease after nearly a year in which research was the main tool against the virus. Vaccines are also integral to the solution and have significantly reduced hospitalizations and fatalities.
According to experts, the CDC recommendation represents a recent fact in which almost half of Americans have undergone at least one vaccination and almost 40% are completely vaccinated.
“At this point, we also should be questioning whether the benefits of research outweigh the costs — which are a lot of delays, a lot of doubt, and very little clinical or public health benefit,” said Dr. David Paltiel of Yale’s School of Public Health, who advocated for universal testing at colleges last year.
Although vaccinated individuals will still contract the virus, they are less likely to become seriously sick as a result of it. Positive test results, on the other hand, may cause needless worry and disruptions at work, home, and education, such as quarantines and shutdowns, according to many experts.
Other health experts believe the CDC’s sudden updates on the need for masks and monitoring have sent the message that COVID-19 is no longer a significant concern, despite the fact that the United States publishes regular case counts of about 30,000.
“The average Joe Public is interpreting what the CDC is doing as ‘This is over. It’s done,'” said Harvard University’s Dr. Michael Mina, a leading proponent of widespread, accelerated research.
With more than 60% of Americans not completely vaccinated, he believes screening of those without symptoms has a role to play, especially among front-line employees who interact with the public.
The revised recommendations, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, are focused on findings that demonstrate the vaccine’s robust efficacy in reducing illness in a variety of age ranges and settings. And when individuals who have been vaccinated contract COVID-19, their infections are milder, shorter, and less likely to spread to others.
As a result, the CDC states that vaccinated individuals will normally be removed from mandatory COVID-19 occupational screening.
This move could alleviate research headaches like the one recorded recently by the New York Yankees, in which one player and several staffers tested positive on a particularly responsive COVID-19 test despite having been vaccinated.
Baseball administrators are debating whether to discontinue or limit monitoring of players who have no signs.
However, widespread efforts to waive tests for vaccinated individuals can run into the same problem as the CDC’s latest mask guidelines: there’s no straightforward way to tell who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t.
Employers have the legislative authority to prescribe vaccinations for the majority of their employees, but few have used this authority because the vaccines do not yet have full regulatory clearance. Some employment-law experts consider requiring workers to report their vaccine record to be invasive.
For the time being, research seems to be ongoing unabated in areas where it has been implemented, ranging from workplaces to meatpacking plants to sports teams.
Smithfield Foods, a pork manufacturer, said it continues to perform a mix of obligatory and discretionary tests for workers, based on worksite conditions. Amazon has stated that it will continue to provide standard, voluntary research.
The NBA has stated that it intends to keep its testing scheme in place for the time being. The league has been lauded for using robust testing to build COVID-19-free “bubbles” surrounding players, coaches, and personnel.
On a national scale, the availability of COVID-19 tests currently well outnumbers the market. Officials in the United States collect estimates of over 1 million tests every day, down from a high of over 2 million in mid-January, but many rapid tests performed at home and at work go uncounted.
Consumers can purchase 15-minute over-the-counter samples at pharmacies and other retail locations. This is in addition to expanded capacity from labs and hospitals in the United States, which ramped up research following last year’s crushing demand.
According to Arizona State University researchers, the United States will be able to perform 500 million monthly experiments by June.
And as early as this winter, numerous health professionals were pushing for a massive research campaign to reopen classrooms, offices, and other industries in a healthier manner. But this was before it was understood how safe the vaccine would be in use, how easily it could be administered, and whether it would defend against variants.
“The vaccines outperformed expectations,” said Dr. Jeffrey Engel of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. “At this stage, you should start peeling back some of the other layers of mitigation, such as mask usage and screening.”
In the previous pandemic relief package, Congress set aside $46 billion to increase testing, especially in schools. However, since all Americans aged 12 and over are now registered for vaccinations, many middle and high school children will be completely vaccinated when they return to school in the fall.
Furthermore, several school districts have now opposed routine tests for elementary schools, citing the fact that children rarely become chronically sick and that a positive test can result in destructive quarantines.
Some states have also returned government research dollars, opting for less intrusive interventions such as mask wearing and social distancing.
According to Engel, many school administrators “only see screening services as a massive obstacle that isn’t going to help.”