California Ends COVID Isolation Rule for Asymptomatic Cases as Winter Infections Climb

coronavirus covid-2019 Girl in mask fear

Woman in mask. [Can Stock Photo]

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Californians infected with COVID-19 may go about their lives without isolating or testing negative as long as their symptoms are improving, according to new and significantly loosened guidelines from the California Department of Public Health.

California’s top public health official, Dr. Tomás Aragón, last week quietly rescinded the state’s previous order, which encouraged people infected with COVID-19 to isolate for five days.

The new health order allows Californians with COVID-19 to return to work or school as long as their symptoms are improving and they are fever-free for 24 hours without medication. Asymptomatic individuals who test positive are not considered infectious and do not need to isolate, according to the order.

“Instead of staying home for a minimum of five days, individuals may return to work or school when they start to feel better,” state public health officials said in an unsigned statement.

The guidelines came down as California tipped over the edge of a major respiratory illness surge fueled by COVID-19, seasonal influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV. Flu and COVID-19 hospitalizations both peaked during the first week of January and have been trending downward since, according to state data.

Masking requirements have not changed, and people with COVID-19 should wear masks for 10 days whether or not they have symptoms. The new guidelines do not apply to employees at high-risk health care settings like hospitals and nursing homes, which may also have different policies for visitors.

It is unclear whether employers can require workers to return to work if they wish to isolate until they test negative. Cal/OSHA, the agency that enforces state workplace safety laws, did not respond to a request for clarification on the rule by deadline.

Some experts say the new guidelines represent a major shift in California’s COVID-19 strategy, but they are not necessarily an unexpected change.

“I think it’s reasonable, mainly for the amount of population immunity that we have including in kids, and for the fact that we have a menu of options to prevent and treat COVID,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert with UCSF Health. “It does come with responsibility…we still have to wear masks and be cautious around people who are older or immunocompromised.”

A national study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June estimated about 96% of people 16 and older had acquired COVID-19 immunity either through vaccination, previous infection or both. State data shows that while relatively few Californians are fully vaccinated with updated boosters — only about 12% — at least 82.5% of the population has gotten at least one COVID-19 shot.

The state’s move also signals a shift toward treating COVID-19 like all other endemic respiratory infections.

“Many people may be infected with COVID-19 or other respiratory infections and do not test or know what infection they may have. Updating our public health approach and recommendations incorporates our recommendations into a broader, multi-pronged approach to multiple respiratory viruses,” department officials said in a statement.

Dr. Noha Aboelata, chief executive of Roots Community Health Center in Oakland, is one of many community doctors who have expressed disappointment in the state’s new direction. COVID-19 does not necessarily behave like other respiratory viruses — hospitalizations and deaths have never dropped to zero the way flu does outside of the winter months — and it is still unpredictable, Aboelata said.

“We still believe that if there’s enough to detect (on a test), there’s enough to infect,” Aboelata said. “So I would recommend people test negative before going around others.”

California schools adjust to new COVID-19 rules

The state’s new strategy also seeks to minimize disruptions in school where long periods of quarantine and virtual instruction adversely impacted student learning and led to widespread mental health challenges for young people.

Some California school districts adopted the new guidelines immediately, while others said they were waiting for direction from their local public health agencies.

Oakland Unified was among those that notified parents of its new policy not long after the state released the guidelines. In an email to families, the district said students and staff can come to school if they test positive for COVID-19, as long as they’re asymptomatic, wear masks and avoid people who are at high risk of sickness, such as those who are immunocompromised.

In line with the state guidelines, those with COVID-19 symptoms should stay home but can return to school once the symptoms improve. The district said it will continue to stock masks and COVID-19 tests and keep air purifiers in classrooms.

“This changes nothing for most parents. We could have had these guidelines two years ago and the result would be the same. … we all know kids belong in school.

Scott Davison, parent in Carlsbad Unified school district

Los Angeles Unified, the largest school district in the state, said it was waiting for direction from the county public health agency. In a note to families, Fresno Unified recommended that students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 stay home, regardless of their symptoms.

The mixed response mirrored schools’ earlier reactions to COVID-19 in 2020. While most districts closed in March that year, some started bringing back special education students as soon as late spring while others — mainly larger districts — didn’t reopen for in-person instruction until fall 2021.

Teachers and parents on board with COVID rules

For many districts, re-opening decisions hinged on negotiations with teacher unions. This week, California’s largest teacher union was generally supportive of the state’s update to COVID-19 guidelines, saying that schools have adopted enough safety measures to keep staff, students and families safe.

“We’re always concerned about individuals who are high-risk, and we’ll continue monitoring the situation and re-open (contracts) if necessary,” said Rachel Warino, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association. “But we’re confident that negotiations that happened at the height of the pandemic — over air filtration, testing, masks, reasonable accommodations — will be sufficient for now.”

Some parents were relieved at the new guidelines because they encourage students to be in school. Thousands of students statewide are still struggling to catch up academically after remote learning, and many suffered mental health challenges during quarantine.

Scott Davison, who’s part of a parent group in Carlsbad Unified near San Diego, said parents have been sending asymptomatic students to school for a year or more, regardless of state or local guidelines.

“This changes nothing for most parents,” Davison said. “We could have had these guidelines two years ago and the result would be the same. … we all know kids belong in school.”

Concern for vulnerable Californians

Disability and equity advocates are particularly critical of the new guidelines. They contend the change could increase risk of infection for vulnerable Californians.

“This policy is not based in science, equity or public health. It devalues the lives of immunocompromised and disabled people, and completely ignores the risk of long COVID,” said Lisa McCorkell, co-founder of the Patient-Led Research Collaborative, which studies the impacts of long COVID.

There is no treatment for long COVID, which can leave some patients debilitated for years, and increased transmission will disproportionately harm poor communities, McCorkell said.

California officials have made other significant changes to the state’s COVID-19 response strategy in recent months, including returning the majority of the state’s Paxlovid stockpile to the federal government in December, effectively ending California’s free antiviral program.

The free COVID-19 hotline where residents could get Paxlovid prescriptions and vaccine appointments will also shut down at the end of February, state public health officials told CalMatters in a statement. The state has spent $2.3 million on the hotline since July 2022.

These changes, too, are worrisome for equity advocates.

“Not everybody has a primary care doctor. If you don’t have a primary care provider or good access to a primary care provider that’s knowledgeable about treating, then you’re going to have a difficult time accessing it,” Aboelata said.

State-regulated health insurance plans are required to permanently cover in-network COVID-19 testing, vaccination and treatment free of charge, although about 6 million Californians are enrolled in federally regulated plans that are only required to cover vaccines. You can ask your employer what kind of coverage you have.

Supported by the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF), which works to ensure that people have access to the care they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford. Visit www.chcf.org to learn more.

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15 Comments
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Farce
Guest
Farce
30 days ago

Looks like the scamdemic is winding down. It’s amazing that anybody is still alive!

laura cooskey
Member
laura cooskey
30 days ago
Reply to  Farce

I’ve never gotten it. Must be my vaccination status: not one.
Obviously, one situation doesn’t negate the whole big fiasco. But it IS interesting in the face of years of insisting how contagious and deadly this is…
I cannot deny my own experience and reality, and that of most people i know, which is in sharp contrast to the reports of everyone in the country having personally lost close friends and family. Hello? If that has been the case, why aren’t the epidemiologists out studying all us “lucky” ones to find out about the factors that have protected us? Nothing remotely close to what has been reported has happened to anyone i know.
It has happened to the populations in their cities, however, as they know from reading the official reports. Just not happened to them or their personal friends.

furies
Guest
furies
30 days ago
Reply to  laura cooskey

Just guessing: your blood type is O…O- is the winner here…

laura cooskey
Member
laura cooskey
29 days ago
Reply to  furies

I think i am an O. I hadn’t heard that theory. I am interested in common threads tying people who have had general susceptibility or general resistance to Covid, though, so that might be something to follow up on.

turbo
Guest
turbo
30 days ago
Reply to  Farce

move over covid….. disease X is coming

D'Tucker Jebs
Member
30 days ago
Reply to  turbo

True
Best to not get caught with our pants down again.

Kicking Bull
Guest
Kicking Bull
30 days ago

Can’t tell if this ad copy was GPT or NPC.

“Paxlovid: I’m loving it!”

Stevo
Guest
Stevo
30 days ago

No such animal as Asymptomatic. You either present with diagnosable symptoms or not. Any doctor that tells you that you are an asymptomatic is an idiot. I base that remark on the study that was done by the Chinese to identify asymptomatic spreaders. It doesn’t exist. It is entirely made up.

Public “health ” officials with that MPH after their name seeing Covid everywhere based on unvalidated PCR tests are imo the modern day equivalent of patent medicine sellers of the 1800’s.

If you smell bullshit, you likely have a very good bullshit detector. If you see a pile of bullshit, you likely have a good bullshit detector. Don’t let them spread more bullshit.

Martha
Guest
Martha
30 days ago
Reply to  Stevo

thanks Stevo…. Everyone who tested positive the first time had symptoms at the Public Health Covid Testing Site I worked at for the last year of Covid testing. The symptoms would fade as the immune system was able to fight it back. The Immune System has to fight it off, the Paxlovid only lasts 5 days. It takes up to 2 to 3 months for some people to clear the virus enough to not test positive.
People need to protect their Immune Systems, it our best defense. Martha

Wizard of OddsD
Member
30 days ago

Kym, does CalMatters pay or donate to smaller media outlets (like RHBB) to post their articles?

Kym Kemp
Admin
30 days ago
Reply to  Wizard of Odds

No, they allow us to use their quality news articles for free. There are a number of articles they put out each week and we choose which ones we think are of interest or importance to our readers. Or, in my case, how many holes I need to fill on my website that I haven’t been able to afford to pay a freelancer to cover a story.

Wizard of OddsD
Member
30 days ago
Reply to  Kym Kemp

Thanks for the explanation

furies
Guest
furies
30 days ago

Eugenicists at the helm…this is not good for *anyone*.

Covid is a Class 3 biohazard just like Yellow Fever, TB, Monkeypox and back when I was a practicing nurse we put those folks in a negative pressure room.

Now there’s too many…Covid is NOT a “cold’ OR THE “flu”

This is a mass disabling event sponsered by our government…cuz MONEY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN LIFE ITself.

We are in the midst of the second largest wave of the whole pandemic. I am seeing my friends and neighbors get Covid over and over again and then wondering where their heart problems/lung problems, “why are we sick all the time” problems…see the Senate Hearings last week for stories from citizens fighting their long Covid battle with NO TOOLS…Long Covid estimated to be 10% of cases.

And I see somebody below bloviating about ‘asymptomatic’….is a fucking real thing…and now with Pirola, looking to be 60% of infections spread this way.

Pretend at everyone’s expense. This is no fucking joke.

https://www.help.senate.gov/hearings/addressing-long-covid-advancing-research-and-improving-patient-care

boingboing.net/2024/01/19/long-covid-expert-at-us-senate-hearing-the-burden-of-disease-and-disability-from-long-covid-is-on-par-with-the-burden-of-cancer-and-heart-disease.html

I like stars
Guest
I like stars
30 days ago

How can you tell the difference between an asymptomatic infection and a false positive test?

Kicking Bull
Guest
Kicking Bull
30 days ago
Reply to  I like stars

One makes cents?