The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defended the agency’s shifting guidance that workers should stay home after testing positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday that the newly shortened five-day stay at home guidance reflects medical science that the chance of transmitting the disease to others is very low after that period, instead of the previous 10-day recommendation.

She also defended the confusing fact that workers are not being told to take a rapid COVID test before returning to work after the new shortened period.

“We can’t tell how transmissible you are from a positive test and negative tests are most useful when taken serially, more than one time,” Walensky said at a briefing by the White House coronavirus task force.

The pandemic doctor also defended new recommendations about what workers should do if they do take a rapid test after five days.

“If that test is positive, people should stay home for those extra five days,” she said. “If that test is negative, people really need to continue to wear their mask for the rest of the ten days.”

Critics say that guidance is confusing since the nation’s top public health agency is not recommending those rapid tests or vouching for their effectiveness as diagnostic tools.

Amid soaring caseloads powered by the omicron variant, the relaxed return-to-work recommendations are seen by officials as a needed step to keep essential public services like police, hospitals, transit systems and schools functioning.

Walensky said guidelines for health workers are somewhat stricter — a seven-day stay-at-home recommendation — to reflect their routine contact with patients who are vulnerable to COVID infection.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told the same task force briefing that increasing clinical evidence suggests that omicron is less likely to cause severe COVID disease than previous strains of the virus.

He cited studies from South Africa, where omicron was first identified last November, along with England and Scotland, showing far lower rates of critical illness compared to the numbers of cases caused by omicron.

Fauci added that some studies suggest omicron is less dangerous because it attacks the upper respiratory system as opposed to the lungs of victims.

“The big caveat is we should not be complacent,” Fauci warned. “Don’t take this as a signal we can pull back from the precautions.”

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