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COVID-19: Many feel it’s somewhat reckless to tell people after 5 days you can assume you’re fine and clear says Emergency Medicine Physician

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Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, Emergency Medicine Physician, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the CDC’s new isolation guidelines.

Video Transcript

BRIAN CHEUNG: Yes Dr. Hiral Tipirneni is an emergency medicine physician and joins us now live on the show. It's great to have you on the program. I wanted to just start off with your general thoughts on that new CDC guidelines. It seems like a bit clunkily communicated to the public. But do you agree with the change for that ten day to five day quarantine? And also, what are you seeing generally on the front as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the country?

HIRAL TIPIRNENI: Thanks so much for having me. And boy, there's a lot to unpack here. The CDC-- the revamped CDC guidelines are imperfect, let's put it that way. There are many of my colleagues out there who are voicing many reservations about this, and I think it is because of a few reasons. We certainly understand the need to try to get people back to school and to work if we can do it safely in a shorter period of time. That makes a lot of sense for our economy, and for the social structure, and for people living their lives.

But we have to do it safely. And Omicron, yes, it has differences in the time of presentation of symptoms and its severity, but it is still a very transmissible variant. And so, what is left out of these new CDC guidelines is the testing. It is one thing to say after five days, if you remain asymptomatic, go back out there. But that should be only done if you've had a negative test. So the piece that is left out there is with the testing. We know that rapid antigen tests play a huge role in us getting back to school and work and our normal lives and that was left out of this.

It is felt by many to be somewhat reckless to be just telling people after five days that you can assume that you're fine and clear. We have seen positive tests remain positive with people still shedding virus up to eight, nine, more days than that. And everybody doesn't have the same exact course, so that testing piece is really critical.

And I would advise everybody to make sure that if you are following these new guidelines, the piece that you need to put in there is to make sure you have a rapid antigen test that is negative at the end of that five days. And the other part of this is remember about this masking for five days. That also suggests that otherwise people don't need to mask, and that's where the confusion also sets in.

Because right now, the guidelines are that they should be masking in indoor public places. And if you are telling people just to mask if they've been exposed or they themselves have been infected, then that supposedly suggests to everybody else that they don't have to wear masks, and we know that is not the case. So there are definitely layers of confusion here and I really hope the CDC and other larger voices have a chance to clarify this.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So let's break it down because millions of Americans are now four or five days from Christmas Eve, Christmas with their families. Let's assume you get a phone call that someone in your immediate gathering has tested positive for COVID 19. If you don't have symptoms what's your next course of action? You're four or five days out, that's the incubation period. Should you get the PCR test? Should you hold off if you don't have symptoms? What do you advise?

HIRAL TIPIRNENI: That's a great question and our-- my own family experienced this. My younger daughter got COVID over the break and we did exactly what the CDC recommends. We made sure that she was in total isolation and we quarantined. We all tested both at two days and then at 5 days. Thankfully we were all negative and clear, and we were all asymptomatic. And so those are the guidelines to be using: to take the test at five days if you haven't been tested prior to that. And if you're asymptomatic and your test is negative, that's fine. You can consider yourself clear.

But again, people should be masking in indoor public settings. So I don't want to remove that element of the precautions. That is in our national, across the board public health guidelines that we still need to be doing that masking in indoor public settings regardless.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Now how much of this is kind of unique to the Omicron variant itself? Because there could also be some confusion about whether or not some of the guideline changes were because the Omicron variant fades faster than other variants and whatnot. Again, I'm not an epidemiologist, but is there some element to this of being able to discern whether or not you have the Omicron variant, and whether or not that dictates a different protocol for if you do test positive? Because, for full disclosure, I recently got COVID 19, tested positive through a PCR test. But it was not very much clear to me on my test whether or not it was the Omicron variant or not.

HIRAL TIPIRNENI: Correct, and so that's a great point that you raised. Because right now obviously Omicron, that variant, is by far the majority of the COVID positive cases out there, but not everybody has that sort of textbook presentation or course of it. And so that's why we need testing to play a very big role in this, because we cannot make that assumption that, oh, this is the Omicron variant and we know that in five days it'll probably be gone. Probably isn't good enough. We have rapid antigen tests for a reason. So get that rapid antigen test, make sure you're negative, and then you know that you are clear.

And this goes back to a little bit about what President Biden said. And I know last week when they announced they're having half a billion COVID tests available for people to get when they need it. We have to implement rapid testing much more frequently and much more consistently in deciding that people are clear to go back to work and school. We have this tool, we need to use it. We should not be going on this presupposition of five days and you're clear if you're asymptomatic.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Let's use Brian as our example. He's just told us that he at one point had COVID 19. Would he still show in a PCR test or over the counter antigen test-- would he show positive results even though he's now free and clear of it?

HIRAL TIPIRNENI: PCR tests can remain positive for several months. And that's why the rapid antigen test is a better test in this case to make sure he's clear. What that will show is if you are still shedding virus, so absolutely, the PCR test is not going to be negative immediately afterwards. So it's really more of a confirmatory test for a negative rather than to confirm that somebody who has been positive and has been infected is now clear. You can be asymptomatic afterwards and have a negative antigen test, still have a positive PCR but be safe to go out because you're not shedding virus.

So I'm glad you brought that up, because it's important to know the value of those two tests. And for people who have been symptomatic, who have been infected, who have been exposed-- for all those folks, rapid antigen tests are our best tool to know if people are safe to go back out and to work and school and so forth.

BRIAN CHEUNG: And that's exactly what my doctor prescribed to me as well after I tested positive with some mild symptoms. After five days of no longer being symptomatic, took a rapid PCR which confirmed I was no longer-- no longer had it and then I was--