No further coronavirus testing is needed for fully-vaccinated Americans, according to a new guideline handed down by the US’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday.
The watershed moment came as a bit of a surprise to many, just after the CDC relaxed its mask mandate last week — which had been in place for more than a year, calling for the wearing of face coverings in almost all public settings, from stores to places of employment to churches.
Although the mask mandate is still in place for most schools — at least as long as the under-12 population has not been vaccinated — in the vast majority of establishments, excluding restaurants and medical offices, Americans do not need to mask indoors anymore.
The CDC now says that the majority of those who have received all their coronavirus vaccinations and are not showing symptoms of the disease do not even need to be screened for the virus — even if they know they have been exposed to it.
Move away from coronavirus testing seen as new phase in pandemic recovery
The move is seen as a completely new phase of the fight against the pandemic after almost a year of testing being urged for anyone who thought that they might have been exposed in any setting.
The near-complete success of the US’ vaccination campaign, with some states reporting over 70% of their populations already inoculated, has meant that there is simply no need to test. The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths have been plummeting in most areas.
Nearly half of all Americans have now received at least one shot and almost 40% nationally are now fully vaccinated.
Dr. A. David Paltiel, from Yale’s School of Public Health, told the Associated Press “At this point we really should be asking ourselves whether the benefits of testing outweigh the costs — which are lots of disruptions, lots of confusion and very little clinical or public health benefit.”
Paltiel was one of the nations most prominent health officials who urged widespread testing of students at the nation’s colleges this past year.
The vaccines now employed throughout America are all approximately 95% effective in protecting against the coronavirus; although there is still a slight chance that a fully-vaccinated person can catch it, their risk of experiencing severe symptoms is almost nil.
Moreover, positive test results can lead to what experts now believe are unnecessary worry and stress — not to mention more interruptions of school and work, including quarantines.
Some experts, however, would like to tap the brakes a bit, worried that the CDC’s abrupt relaxation of the rules that have been in place since March of 2020 will send a message that the coronavirus is no longer a threat to public health.
Decision may be misinterpreted by public, experts fear
Daily cases in the US are still at the 30,000 mark — although the majority of cases are now occurring in those who have not been vaccinated, especially those under 29, who have much greater chances of surviving the virus even when they do contract it.
Dr. Michael Mina, of Harvard University, who is a leading advocate of widespread public testing, says “The average Joe Public is interpreting what the CDC is saying as ‘This is done. It’s over.'”
With more than 60% of the US not fully vaccinated as of this week, Mina believes that screening of asymptomatic people still is fruitful — especially among front-line workers who are constantly before the public.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, stated to the press that the updated guidelines are based on new studies that show the strength of the vaccine in preventing the disease in all age groups and in all settings.
It has now been proven, as pharmaceutical companies reported from their own testing, that even when outlier cases of the coronavirus occur in vaccinated people, the symptoms experienced are much milder than in full-blown Covid-19. Infections, the CDC reports, are milder, shorter in duration and they are less likely to be able to spread to other individuals.
The routine workplace screening for the virus, which was in place for more than a year in some institutions, can now be done away with, according to the new ruling.
One recent incident showed the frustration many have felt recently at the stringency of the guidelines which were in place, as members of the New York Yankees baseball team were placed on alert after one player and a handful of staff tested positive for the virus despite having been vaccinated. The test used was considered highly sensitive.
Major League Baseball is now considering whether or not to drop or reduce the amount of testing of those who are not experiencing symptoms.
Naturally, the same issue as occurred last week, when the CDC ruled that there was no need for the vaccinated to mask in most settings, will also occur now, as there is no obvious way to know who has been vaccinated without having to show a card.
It is legal for American employers to require vaccinations for most workers but very few of them have taken that step since the vaccines are all still in the “Emergency Use” phase of the approval process.
Some employment law specialists hold that even asking employees whether or not they have been inoculated may be considered intrusive.
At this point, testing is still the rule of the day in establishments such as meat-packing plants, offices and sports teams, among others.
Officials from Smithfield Foods, the meatpacking giant which suffered huge manpower losses due to workers who contracted the virus, and the subsequent quarantining of employees, stated that it would continue on its program of both mandatory and optional testing for its employees, depending on conditions at each plant.
Online retail giant Amazon stated that it would continue to offer its regular voluntary testing to its employees.
The National Basketball Association, which has employed a program of rigorous testing and the creation of “bubbles” around players this past year, said that it will keep its testing regimen in place for coaches, players and staff for the present.
In what seems almost an impossibility over the shortages of last year, there are now more than enough coronavirus tests of all kinds to satisfy demand in the United States. As recently as in mid-January of 2021 the CDC received an average of two million test reports per day. Now, the amount it receives is less than one million each day, in a country that has a population of more than 325 million.
All American shoppers can easily purchase rapid 15-minute tests over the counter at all pharmacies and even at other stores, while increased capacity at the country’s laboratories and hospitals means that the results can be processed ever faster.
A report from the Associated Press says that researchers at Arizona University speculate that the United States will be able to conduct a total of 500 million tests next month, if needed.
As recently as this past winter, experts were calling for a huge ramp-up in testing, as the results of the vaccines was yet to be proven on millions of individuals. Now that their efficacy hovers at nearly 95% across the board, they believe there is simply no such need.
“The vaccines over-performed, which is the best new possible,” says Dr. Jeffrey Engel, a member of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. He adds, “So now, you can begin to peel back some of those other layers of mitigation like mask use and screening.”
Pooled coronavirus testing faster, cheaper for schools who choose it
The US Congress had even set aside a whopping $46 billion as part of the latest relief package to enable widespread coronavirus testing, now that most schools have resumed normal function again. But with shots now available to all those over 11, nearly all middle and high school pupils will be able to be fully vaccinated when they return to class again in the Fall.
Since children rarely become seriously ill from the virus — even when they do contract it — many scholarships systems across the US have refused to institute a policy of blanket testing for elementary students — although some, like those in Maine, are employing a system of “pooled testing,” in which swabs from all children from one class are tested in the same sample.
This method is cheaper and much faster than testing each single child individually. Only if there is a positive result are all the children in that class then tested separately.
Some states ave even returned the federal funds allocated to them for testing, stating that mask wearing and social distancing are working well to stem the spread of the virus.
In additional coronavirus news, the nation’s leading epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was the head of the CDC before the appointment of Dr. Walensky, stated last Friday that vaccinated Americans would “not necessarily” need to have booster shots this Fall or Winter to further protect them against the virus.
In an interview with CBS’ “This Morning,” Fauci stated that scientists are closely tracking all the available data from each variant that presents itself; it is still “possible,” he noted, that such shots would be needed, however.
Fauci added that he still firm believes that masking helps further stem the spread of the virus, urging this who have not been vaccinated to continue to wear face coverings even if they are largely spending time with those who have ben fully inoculated.