Senators grill Biden administration about confusion over CDC guidance, testing shortages

The nation’s top public health officials testified before a Senate committee Tuesday about the federal government’s response to the Omicron variant.

They faced criticism over testing shortages and confusion about the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) isolation and quarantine guidance after it was changed last month.

It comes as new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations reach record highs across the country.

“It’s a very wily virus,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief White House Medical Advisor. “Very unpredictable and we’re doing the best we possibly can.”

Senators on the committee questioned the Biden administration about public confusion after the CDC cut the recommended isolation and quarantine period for asymptomatic people from ten days down to five.

“I’ve heard from people who have found the communication about new isolation and quarantine guidance confusing and frustrating,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

“I’m not questioning the science,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). “I’m glad you refrain from testing mandates. But I’m questioning your communication strategies.”

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said she knows the guidance has led to questions and outlined the recommendations again in her testimony.

“For people who tested positive for COVID-19, CDC recommends isolation for five days,” said Walensky. “If you are asymptomatic or if your symptoms are resolving, for example you’re without a fever for 24 hours, you no longer need to isolate.”

Walensky defended the changes and said the government’s guidance is adapting as the virus evolves.

“These recommendations are consistent with over 100 studies collected over the past two years indicating that people are most infectious during their first few days of infection,” said Walensky.

Lawmakers also grilled the administration over testing shortages.

“There were no tests on the shelves or online and hours long lines were the norm at testing sites across the country,” said Burr.

“I’ve heard from so many people who are waiting in long lines and going from pharmacy to pharmacy trying to find a test,” said Murray. “What are you doing to address the frustration and challenges we are hearing about COVID testing?”

“We are in the process of procuring the 500 million tests which every American household will be able to order and have shipped directly to their house,” said Dawn O’Connell, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

O’Connell said the first batch of the 500 million tests will be sent out later this month.