But the evolving administration approach is also one that could eventually point to a sustainable path back to something closer to normality for many Americans once the winter surge abates — a future in which Covid-19 will always be in the background and not eradicated.
It’s fair to ask whether the Biden administration is beginning to prioritize economics over science, just as Democrats once blasted Trump for doing.
As the ex-President agitated in spring 2020 to get Americans back to work, even with high viral rates, he was rightly accused of putting his election-year goals before public health. Members of the Trump administration might be forgiven, therefore, for wondering whether the current President, faced with a tough midterm election year, is attempting something similar.
The issue is steeped in complexity that runs deeper than politics. The new CDC approach has some support from physicians worried about hospitals running short on doctors, nurses and support staff when Omicron hits its peak. But some epidemiologists are concerned that the isolation period is too short and could lead to more infections. Worker advocates like flight attendant unions have warned against forcing people back to work when they are sick.
The isolation issue is not the only one causing political controversy.
Walensky explained to reporters that negative rapid antigen tests were not required at the five-day mark because such methods were not always accurate in showing whether someone could transmit the virus at that point. Yet after Biden admitted this week that his team should have done better in foreseeing a huge shortage in such tests, it would be politically impossible for the CDC to require them when changing the guidance.
Former Trump administration surgeon general Dr. Jerome Adams — who was among officials often accused of putting politics before science or appeasing Trump’s goals — criticized the change in guidance on a long Twitter thread Tuesday.
“If it’s to keep the economy open, own it. But don’t claim science based, yet ignore the most important science (ie value of negative tests + high quality masks),” Adams wrote.
He appears to have a point. Yet the current circumstances of the pandemic are far different from those that prevailed when the former President downplayed its significance, despite knowing how serious it was, in an apparent effort to shield his reelection prospects.