Days after federal officials cut the recommended time for COVID-19 isolation in half for those without symptoms, local and national health experts are torn on whether it was the right call.
The updated guidance — issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a media statement Monday — allows those who tested positive for the viral disease and don’t have symptoms to go back to their regular activities after five days, regardless of vaccination status, as long as they wear a mask for another five.
Previously, the federal agency asked that people stay home for 10 days to avoid infecting others.
The rationale for the change is “motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness,” the statement reads, and to help people “safely continue their daily lives.”
Nationally, the updated guidance has garnered criticism, with those opposed to it saying it’s an example of the government giving into pressure from big businesses — like airlines — that want to get COVID-19 infected employees back to work as soon as possible, according to various news reports.
And while health experts acknowledge that a shortened isolation period could work at this stage of the pandemic, there could be some hiccups along the way.
“I think their intent is appropriate. In a sense, we have to learn to live with COVID-19; we have to learn to function and we have to learn to continue on as a society ..., “ said Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious disease expert at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene. “Do I think we are at a point where we can do this five-days-fits-all kind of approach? Not really.”
He explained that issuing two separate protocols for those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t — as fully inoculated people shed the virus for a shorter period of time than those who aren’t — may have been the safer choice for the CDC.
Additionally, Khole said he does not agree with the CDC declining to require a negative test before returning to work, school or other activities. There is also worry, he added, of people not complying with masking after the new five-day isolation period.
“We have already seen how hard it is to get people to wear masks, and we’re relying on the honor system, which we haven’t had the best results with,” Khole said.
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, said he mostly agrees with the CDC’s latest guidance, noting that they are “walking a tight rope.”
“You’re darned if you do, you’re darned if you don’t ... They have my sympathies; it’s a difficult thing,” he said in an interview.
If federal officials had recommended people get a negative test after five days, for example, Schaffner said the CDC would’ve drawn criticism because of the lack of rapid tests available nationwide (and that not everyone can afford one).
Similarly, he said if they split the recommendation between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, the agency would’ve been criticized again for making the policy too confusing.
“Because as soon as you say the right-handed people do this and the left-handed people do that, all of a sudden you have 387 questions,” Schaffner said. “So I think what the CDC was trying to do was follow the KISS rule — keep it simple, stupid.”
Dr. Michael Lindberg, retired chief medical officer at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, said he trusts the CDC’s recommendation.
“I truly believe the CDC wouldn’t issue a statement like this if they didn’t have good science to back it up,” he said. “It seems to hold up.”
He acknowledged, though, that the decision could cause increased workplace or school-related anxiety because people may not be complying with the masking requirement or could still be infectious.
“I think it’s going to be a problem for some people. I can’t say I blame them,” Lindberg said.
Khole echoed this, saying the rule will get people back to their everyday lives quicker and may help with workforce shortages, but that’ll likely come at a cost.
“It’s going to come with other challenges, such as with individuals around [a person who tested positive],” he said. “What’s their comfort level and how much we do really believe in the honor system?”
To best prevent contracting COVID-19 in the first place, people should get vaccinated and boostered, don a face mask in public and stay home when sick, health officials say.
Breakthrough cases can and do occur, but are typically milder than in those who are not inoculated.
“Unvaccinated people are relying on the kindness of strangers to protect their lives,” Lindberg said. “There is just no reason not to get vaccinated at this point.”
To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine, visit your local pharmacy’s website or book an appointment through the state at vaccines.nh.gov or by calling its hotline at 2-1-1.
New Hampshire students who engaged in virtual learning saw a drop in mathematics assessment scores over the last academic school year, according to data released by the Department of Education Tuesday, in what officials said was an indication of pandemic-driven learning loss.
Across the state, proficiency in math dropped from 2019 to 2021, the assessment data says. Where 48 percent of students were measured as proficient or above proficient in math in 2019, only 38 percent of students had achieved a similar result in 2021, the data shows.
English language arts and science proficiencies stayed relatively level. Fifty-two percent of students achieved proficient or above proficient scores in English in 2021, compared with 56 percent in 2019. The number of students who scored the same in science moved from 39 percent in 2019 to 37 percent in 2021.
The data represents the aggregate of the state’s annual assessment; each spring, students in grades three to eight are evaluated in English language arts and mathematics, and students in grades five, eight, and 11 are assessed in science.
The department does not have data from spring 2020 because assessments were not carried out that year due to the onset of the pandemic.
Additional data suggests that students who received lessons via virtual learning suffered slightly bigger drops in their assessments than those who stayed in schools. A report by the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment conducted for the state found that New Hampshire students who spent 60 to 80 percent of the 2020-2021 school year in remote learning saw the average school-by-school proficiency in mathematics drop by 29.6 percentage points.
Students whose schools stayed mostly open — spending between zero to 20 percent of their days in remote learning — saw a dip in mathematics proficiency of 12.4 percentage points.
“Both sets of analyses lead to the same conclusion: Higher amounts of virtual education are associated with lower rates of student learning. Decreases in learning are much larger in mathematics than in ELA,” the report, written by Damian Betebenner, states.
Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut noted that the drop in proficiency mirrors similar declines in other states during the pandemic. And he noted that the two years of COVID-19 had accelerated what had already been a five-year, year-to-year decrease of math and reading scores in New Hampshire.
“It is clear and understandable that trauma from the pandemic continues to impact schools, students, and teachers. I remain incredibly proud and grateful to all of the educators who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep academics and the overall well-being of New Hampshire students a priority,” he said.
To help combat learning loss, Edelblut has promoted a state-private partnership with Prenda, a national company that operates “learning pods” that offer tutoring to students to replace school instruction times. The pods are intended to help students who have fallen behind regain lost ground before returning to school. On Dec. 8, the Executive Council approved a two-year extension of a $5.8 million federally funded contract with Prenda, which has attracted five school districts.
Democrats have opposed the partnership, which pays Prenda $5,000 per student per year, arguing the take-up rate has been too low and that the federal money should be spent on direct assistance to public schools to address learning loss.
A list containing the names of New Hampshire police officers that have committed acts calling their credibility into question is finally public, providing the first glimpse of a document subject to lawsuits and calls for release by civil liberties advocates and media outlets including The Sentinel for years.
On Wednesday, the New Hampshire Department of Justice released the first portion of the exculpatory evidence schedule, better known as the Laurie List, revealing the names of 90 police officers, along with a brief, sometimes one-word explanation, for the conduct that landed them on the document.
The document, which notes that officers may no longer be employed at the department listed, includes 10 officers from the Monadnock Region. Three Hinsdale officers, two from the Keene Police Department, and one each from the Peterborough, Stoddard, Swanzey, Troy and Winchester departments appear on the list released Wednesday.
All but three of the local officers were notified of their place on the list in 2018, according to the document, while additional officers learned of their spot in 2017, 2020 and earlier this year. Most fall under the category of “truthfulness,” while the explanation for one local officer’s placement on the list was excessive force, another was criminal conduct and a third was “dereliction of duty,” according to the document.
To see the full list, visit www.doj.nh.gov/exculpatory-evidence-schedule.
Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent established in the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors are required to turn over evidence that is favorable to a defendant. In 1989, Carl Laurie was charged with murder in New Hampshire.
His conviction was later overturned by the state Supreme Court after determining a detective involved in Laurie’s confession had a litany of poor behavior on this record that wasn’t disclosed to defense attorneys, including allegations of verbal abuse and in some cases, choking people who questioned his demeanor.
In the wake of that decision, county attorneys in New Hampshire began keeping lists of police officers with potential credibility issues, which became known as the Laurie List. When an officer whose name is on the list is involved in a criminal case, prosecutors are instructed to disclose that information to defendants.
More recently, the list, renamed the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, or EES, was managed by the Attorney General’s office. Police officers are normally added to the list by their police chiefs and have the right to appeal that decision in the judicial system.
In 2020, the state Supreme Court ruled the EES was not categorically exempt from disclosure under the state’s transparency laws, but that a lower court needed to determine if the privacy rights of the officers on the list outweighed the public’s interest.
This year, the state legislature passed a bill to release the EES, with the support of police unions, but only after officers were given another opportunity to appeal.
On Wednesday, the names of police officers who were added to the list after May 2018 who do not have ongoing appeals or whose appeals were denied were released publicly. In March 2022, the names of the remaining officers will be released. The EES is believed to contain more than 250 total names.
The DOJ has previously released redacted portions of the list, concealing the names of the officers as well as the dates of the incident that led to their inclusion. A column labeled ‘category’ includes a brief description of the officer’s conduct, including “truthfulness” and “excessive force.”
This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.
The Sentinel added information on the officers from Monadnock Region police departments that appear on the list released Wednesday, and about The Sentinel’s role in calling for the list to be made public.