Earlier this month, national COVID-19 hospitalizations averaged 7,660 people a day, numbers that haven’t been seen since the peak of the pandemic. In the 28 days before Jan. 21, the World Health Organization reported that 6,800 people died of COVID-19 in the U.S.. California’s response to this uptick in cases is dangerously relaxed and needs to be more proactive.
It’s been nine months since the end of the United States’ official COVID-19 public health emergency. In a May 11, 2023 statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, Secretary Xavier Beccera remarked that regardless of the public health emergency ending, “COVID-19 remains a public health priority.” Despite this statement, California seems to have put COVID-19 precautions on the backburner.
Because positive cases outside of hospitalizations are no longer reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 trend monitoring is done through wastewater tracking — sewage testing conducted through the CDC across the United States that serves as an early warning system for communities whose case numbers are rising. Through this practice, experts have found foreboding data showing recent COVID-19 rates rivaling that of the Omicron 2021-2022 winter wave. Even without mandated reporting of cases, the current number of active cases through wastewater tracking is the second highest recorded since March 2020.
With COVID-19 cases aligning alongside the seasonal flu and rising RSV cases, one would think that COVID-19 regulations would increase. However, California’s guidelines remain lax. The CDC advises a five-day quarantine period to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but in California, as of Jan. 9, if you’re symptom-free it’s no longer suggested you quarantine at all.
California’s new quarantine policy is ineffective as a response to rising cases. Without quarantine, asymptomatic cases are treated similarly to negative test results despite how quickly the virus spreads. It’s worth noting that California’s policy still instructs masking for ten days after a positive test, but overall restrictions have relaxed. Roughly 35,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the last week of Dec. 2023, and California’s desire to avoid an extended quarantine period will only make these numbers rise.
The original quarantine period across the United States in 2020 was characterized by social isolation and financial hardship. For many, the COVID-19 lockdown was so stressful that memories of the time have been repressed as a trauma response. While it may be difficult to revert back to quarantine days after returning to some sense of normalcy, public health crises should be treated with the gravity they deserve. Despite developments like vaccines and boosters, there are still at-risk groups like the immunocompromised and elderly. Even for those not at-risk, the threat of long COVID-19, with symptoms like seizures and dementia, is serious. The quarantine period is an asset to everyone and shouldn’t be disregarded over a social strain.
The trouble with California’s policy is its drastic differences from what CDC and health officials advise. The risk of a serious infection from COVID-19 has not been erased by exposure over the last four years, and the expiration of the public health emergency does not mean that the problem has been solved.
Relaxing the quarantine policy now, during another infectious wave of the virus is a dismissal of the progress made since the original outbreak of cases. With public health guidelines as the primary COVID-19 infrastructure, California needs to prioritize public safety. Only with a reliable and withstanding set of policies will the COVID-19 outbreak be kept under control.
Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, Opinion Editor: Chisom Okorafor