Risk tolerance and COVID-19

Pandemic

My Twitter bubble is deeply suspicious of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s reduction[1] of self-isolation time for asymptomatic COVID-19 infections, with many folks arguing it is a capitulation to capitalists.

Airline and other industry officials have been calling on the agency to shorten recommended quarantine and isolation times. They said the slew of flight cancellations were largely driven by employees who tested positive for the virus and were isolating for 10 days. Airline officials, as well as those from other industries, have expressed concern that omicron’s transmissibility would make it impossible to keep businesses running if they followed earlier guidelines.[2]

Some do not seem to have noticed that the new recommendation applies only to asymptomatic folks.[3] Nonetheless, my tweeps may have a point:

Business groups applauded the update, but some health experts were incensed that the agency would reduce the isolation period without first requiring people to get a negative coronavirus test result.

“I absolutely don’t want to sit next to someone who turned Positive 5 days ago and hasn’t tested [negative],” tweeted epidemiologist Michael Mina, an assistant professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, calling the guidance “reckless.”

Other health experts, however, argued the changes are essential to minimize the pandemic’s disruptions to daily life.

“The new guidance reflects a growing reality that we’re going to have to learn to live with covid as a persistent risk, and can’t let it shut down society,” said Scott Gottlieb, a Pfizer board member and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner.[4]

By contrast, in Israel, where preventative measures have seemingly been less controversial,

Under the new guidelines, anyone who is fully vaccinated and exposed to a positive COVID patient — no matter which strain — will have to remain in quarantine only until they test negative via PCR. Once released, they will not be allowed to enter mass events or places with high-risk populations, like nursing homes, for the following 10 days. Until now, fully vaccinated Israelis did not have to quarantine at all following an exposure to a COVID patient, unless it was suspected to be Omicron.

Those who are not vaccinated, meanwhile, will be required to complete seven days of quarantine with two negative tests if they are exposed to a positive COVID patient with any strain of the virus.[5]

That sounds to me like a toughening. So why, one might ask—and I’d really like an answer that doesn’t somehow rely on Trumpist ideology—can Israel “live with” tougher restrictions and the U.S. cannot? Why does Israel seemingly prize its citizens’ lives more than the U.S.?

We’re back, I think, to the question of what people will tolerate. I suspect most of my Uber passengers are only wearing masks because Uber requires it; when I walk into stores other than Whole Foods, I rarely see masks, even where signs request them. Nearly everyone says they’re vaccinated; whether or not they actually are, of course, is another question. Allegheny County reports that “[a]mong county residents at least 5 years of age, 63.7% are fully vaccinated and 7.8% are partially vaccinated,”[6] making it likely that some of those folks are simply seeking to avoid an argument.

A single test wouldn’t do for me. Case counts are high in Allegheny County[7] and I’m assuming I’ve already been exposed to the Omicron variant, will continue to be exposed, and am counting on my body’s immune system—in combination with full vaccination and a booster—to ward it off. My history remains that I simply do not come down with any of this shit, which of course could mean I’m simply asymptomatic. And if someone who’s willfully unvaccinated gets it, even from me, there’s absolutely no sympathy from me, even, as a friend learned last night, if they die.[8] Speaking of her husband’s cousin’s girlfriend, an anti-vaxxer who died from COVID-19, I pointed out that “the death she suffered is one she inflicted on countless others” and there can be absolutely no excusing that.

Angela Haupt, “Thousands who ‘followed the rules’ are about to get covid. They shouldn’t be ashamed,” Washington Post, December 22, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2021/12/22/dont-feel-ashamed-for-getting-covid/

Lolita C. Baldor, “More Marines Discharged Over Vaccine Refusal, Total at 169,” Military.com, December 23, 2021, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2021/12/23/more-marines-discharged-over-vaccine-refusal-total-169.html

Olafimihan Oshin, “Trump pushes back on Candace Owens: ‘People aren’t dying when they take the vaccine,’” Hill, December 23, 2021, https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/public-global-health/587079-trump-pushes-back-on-candace-owens-people-arent-dying

Philip Marcelo, Anne D’Innocenzio, and Bobby Caina Calvan, “Omicron is latest blow to pandemic-weary front-line workers,” Associated Press, December 24, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-health-business-pandemics-london-7004e1f1b1847b9831623e6adcedb5f3

Ariana Eunjung Cha and Jacqueline Dupree, “Omicron and children: Pediatric hospitals in parts of U.S. filling fast,” Washington Post, December 24, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/12/24/omicron-children-hospitalizations-us/

Brittny Mejia, “ICU doctors, nurses demoralized over ‘needless’ COVID-19 misery. ‘Patients are still dying,’” Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-12-24/covid-icu

Aila Slisco, “75 Percent of Unvaxxed Trump Voters Vow to Never Get Jab After Ex-President’s Urging: Poll,” Newsweek, December 24, 2021, https://www.newsweek.com/poll-unvaccinated-trump-voters-1663065

Sarah Bahr and Mike Baker, “Another Christmas of Death and Distress in America’s I.C.U.s,” New York Times, December 25, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/25/us/covid-hospitals.html

Brittny Mejia, “COVID stole the heart of my family. It also divided it,” Los Angeles Times, December 26, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-12-26/covid-stole-heart-of-family-get-vaccinated

Sarah Zhang, “Omicron Is Pushing America Into Soft Lockdown,” Atlantic, December 26, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2021/12/omicron-soft-lockdown/621121/

Yasmeen Abutaleb, “CDC cuts isolation time recommended for people with asymptomatic coronavirus infections,” Washington Post, December 27, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/12/27/cdc-cuts-isolation-time-asymptomic-covid-infections/

WBUR, “Mass. hospitals welcome National Guard members, cancel non-urgent procedures as cases rise,” December 27, 2021, https://www.wbur.org/news/2021/12/27/covid-hospital-staffing-challenges-baker-patients

Amy Spiro, “Israel eases quarantine rules for vaccinated as daily cases hit 3-month high,” Times of Israel, December 28, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/daily-covid-cases-reach-3-month-high-as-omicron-gains-steam-in-israel/


  1. [1]Yasmeen Abutaleb, “CDC cuts isolation time recommended for people with asymptomatic coronavirus infections,” Washington Post, December 27, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/12/27/cdc-cuts-isolation-time-asymptomic-covid-infections/
  2. [2]Yasmeen Abutaleb, “CDC cuts isolation time recommended for people with asymptomatic coronavirus infections,” Washington Post, December 27, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/12/27/cdc-cuts-isolation-time-asymptomic-covid-infections/
  3. [3]Yasmeen Abutaleb, “CDC cuts isolation time recommended for people with asymptomatic coronavirus infections,” Washington Post, December 27, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/12/27/cdc-cuts-isolation-time-asymptomic-covid-infections/
  4. [4]Yasmeen Abutaleb, “CDC cuts isolation time recommended for people with asymptomatic coronavirus infections,” Washington Post, December 27, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/12/27/cdc-cuts-isolation-time-asymptomic-covid-infections/
  5. [5]Amy Spiro, “Israel eases quarantine rules for vaccinated as daily cases hit 3-month high,” Times of Israel, December 28, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/daily-covid-cases-reach-3-month-high-as-omicron-gains-steam-in-israel/
  6. [6]Allegheny County Health Department, “COVID-19 Vaccination Report,” December 13, 2021, https://www.alleghenycounty.us/uploadedFiles/Allegheny_Home/Health_Department/Resources/COVID-19/Docs/COVID-19%20Vaccination%20Report_December%2013,%202021.pdf
  7. [7]Megan Guza, “Pennsylvania, Allegheny County report record covid cases,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 24, 2021, https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-allegheny-county-report-record-covid-cases/
  8. [8]David Benfell, “The COVID-19 anti-vaccination double standard,” Not Housebroken, December 19, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/12/19/the-covid-19-anti-vaccination-double-standard/

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