Shortened C.D.C. Isolation Will Ease Staffing Woes, Businesses Say

The C.D.C. decision to cut the confinement period was welcomed by many business representatives, but a union leader warned that workers may feel pressure to return to their jobs too soon.

The C.D.C. decision to cut the confinement period was welcomed by many business representatives, but a union leader warned that workers may feel pressure to return to their jobs too soon.

New federal guidance shortening the recommended isolation periods for many infected Americans will provide relief to airlines and other companies struggling with staffing shortages, businesses said on Tuesday, but labor representatives warned that the move could push some employees back to work too soon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reduced the number of days that infected patients should remain isolated — and, for many workers, sidelined — to five days, from 10. Anyone leaving isolation must be free of symptoms and should wear a mask when near others for an additional five days.

The updated policy, which came a day before President Biden lifted travel restrictions on countries in southern Africa, was embraced by representatives for industries including air travel, food and retail. The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has torn through already short-staffed sectors, temporarily shutting restaurants and causing the cancellation of thousands of flights that disrupted Christmas travel. More than 1,000 flights “within, into or out of the United States” were canceled on Tuesday, according to FlightAware, which provides aviation data.

“The aviation work force is essential to maintaining the operations of air travel and cargo supply chains,” the trade group Airlines for America said in a statement. “The decision is the right one based upon science.”

But the Association of Flight Attendants, a union that represents nearly 50,000 flight crew workers, had argued that employees should not be expected to return to work unless they had no symptoms and tested negative.

“Already the lack of paid sick leave creates pressure on workers to come to work sick,” said Sara Nelson, the international president of the union. “Corporations that fail to recognize this with paid sick leave, or pressure workers to come to work sick or face discipline, are failing their workers and their customers.”

Delta Air Lines, which last week urged the C.D.C. to reduce the recommended isolation time, said on Monday that it had already begun to adopt the new advice as company policy.

“The updated guidance allows more flexibility for Delta to schedule crews and employees to support a busy holiday travel season and a sustained return to travel by customers,” the airline said in a statement.

A spokesperson for American Airlines referred questions about the new C.D.C. recommendations to Airlines for America. United Airlines did not respond to a request for comment.

Representatives for two other sectors that employ vast numbers of workers who interact with the public and have struggled with staff shortages for months lauded the C.D.C.’s decision.

The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know

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New C.D.C. guidelines Hoping to prevent further disruptions to daily life, the C.D.C. reduced the period that certain infected Americans must sequester to five days from 10. This change applies only to those without symptoms, or those without fevers whose other symptoms are improving.

Staying safe The recent Covid surge is prompting travel and event cancellations as we exit 2021. The Times asked experts to share some guidance on travel and gathering safely, as well as some tips on how and when to test and on using at-home virus tests (if you can find them) and how to manage . Here is what to do if you test positive for the coronavirus.

The Omicron variant The highly transmissible variant appears to cause less-severe illness than that of previous forms of the virus, according to new studies. Research also suggests that many non-mRNA vaccines offer almost no defense against infection. The Pfizer and Moderna boosters, which are mRNA-based, most likely provide strong protection.

Around the world Globally, thousands of flights were canceled as the Omicron variant began to affect airline crews. In Israel, trials have begun to test the effectiveness of a fourth dose of the vaccine. India is expanding its Covid vaccination drive to include everyone 15 and up and is making health workers and some older people eligible for booster shots as the country prepares for another Covid wave.

The Food Industry Association, whose members include major grocers as well as manufacturers, said the revised guidance would help the industry “responsibly address” its labor shortage. The trade group urged “federal, state and local governments to work off the same C.D.C. playbook.”

Stephanie Martz, the chief administrative officer of the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, called the change “welcome news.”

Many of the policy experts who had urged the C.D.C. to update its isolation guidelines had argued that a new approach should incorporate rapid tests, as in Britain. In the United States, demand for tests has soared while manufacturers are still scrambling to ramp up production and distribution.

Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, said testing was necessary because of the vagaries of the coronavirus infection.

“I can’t see how this could go forward without having testing, with assurance of at least a negative rapid antigen test, before circulating,” Dr. Topol said. “This goes against the science, and the fact the time it takes for people to clear their virus is quite variable.”

Emma Goldberg contributed reporting.

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