Changing COVID-19 guidelines could become problematic

In March we marked the four-year anniversary of the day our lives changed. The nascent COVID-19 pandemic brought a global […]

COVID-19 virus

In March we marked the four-year anniversary of the day our lives changed. The nascent COVID-19 pandemic brought a global shutdown many of us assumed would be for only a few weeks. 

We were so wrong. 

For those of us who live with many types of disabilities, the pandemic has forever changed our lives. The wait for the initial vaccines, when a hierarchy of need was set, was a huge frustration for those who couldn’t be the first to get their shots. 

Special education students fell behind. People who need care and supports couldn’t find enough workers. Businesses that provide needed services for Minnesotans with disabilities shut down. 

People whose disabilities and illnesses already caused isolation found themselves more isolated than ever. No one can underestimate the vast mental health impacts that isolation has caused throughout our community. How many of us have friends we’ve just seen again, or seen on a screen, because they fear health risks for themselves or for loved ones? 

So much of our energy in the first years of the pandemic was directed toward not getting sick and in many cases, not making our disabilities worse. We masked up, maintained social distance and upped the hand washing. A cough or a sniffle in public caused us to maintain distance and then hurry to our test kit supply. 

So it’s understandable that there are mixed feelings about the decision to relax guidelines on respiratory illnesses including COVID-19, RSV and the flu. The change comes from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The guidelines state that individuals who are sick should stay home and away from other people. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that the recommended five-day isolation period is gone if certain conditions are present. 

If someone has been free of fever and without symptoms for at least 24 hours, that person doesn’t have to quarantine. There are caveats, of course. The CDC urges people to continue to limit contact with others, mask up, test and avoid indoor spaces if possible for the next five days. 

If symptoms come on again, it’s time to restart the clock. 

CDC leadership has promoted the change as providing more clarity. We at Access Press would agree with that aspect of this change. The pandemic has gone on for so long.

Attitudes about self-care and safety have changed. This kind of a reset and change can provide needed guidance. 

In four years we have seen much more access to treatments and prevention strategies. We’re also seeing fewer hospitalizations and deaths from respiratory illnesses including COVID-19. 

But we also see red flags in media comments by health professionals who believe that the latest CDC change represents an oversimplification. COVID-19 is very different from other viruses. Cases can be asymptomatic. That creates risk of transmission before a person becomes ill. COVID-19 is much more easily transmitted than some other respiratory ailments. 

We also very much appreciate that this causes concern, especially for people with disabilities and their allies. Our colleagues at the news website Disability Scoop did a fine job of outlining concerns focused on this change. There’s a growing sense in parts of our community that the guideline changes don’t serve us well and put us at risk. 

Among groups raising red flags are the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and the Autism Self-Advocacy Network. Leaders contend that curtailing the isolation guidelines is problematic. One statistic cited is that in February 2024, about 20,000 people were being hospitalized with COVID each week. 

And we certainly agree that people with intellectual disabilities were just as likely as others to get COVID-19, and had three-and-a-half times the risk of death during the first two waves of the pandemic. We appreciate that the CDC in its announcement acknowledged that risk but for people with disabilities and their loved ones, that kind of statement can ring hollow. 

A helpful piece of advice from AAPD is that people should seek reasonable accommodations as needed – at work, home, school and in the community. One good suggestion is for employers of all types to expand their paid time off policies to help their workers stay home while sick and recovering. 

The key to all of this is vaccination, vaccination, vaccination. The CDC indicates that of those hospitalized for COVId-19, more than 95 percent had not been vaccinated. Only about one in five eligible people in our country have gotten their vaccines this winter. 

And that, quite frankly, strikes us as problematic when dealing with a disease that will not go away. Why people will not take steps to protect their health and the health of others is quite simply, astounding. 

  • Work with your care provider to stay healthy. Protect yourself. Vaccines are your best protection against being sick.
  • Wash your hands! Hands that look can still have icky germs!

You are not alone. Minnesota Autism Resource Portal.