Read AMA Morning Rounds®’ most popular stories in medicine and public health from the week of Dec. 27, 2021–Dec. 31, 2021.

The New York Times (12/27, Mueller, Paz, Jacobs) reports, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday shortened by half the isolation period for people who contract the coronavirus, saying that just five days after their positive test results those without symptoms could safely resume mixing with others.” The CDC “cited growing evidence that the virus is most contagious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop,” but those “with symptoms after five days are encouraged to remain at home.” This “new guidance was announced as the highly transmissible Omicron variant is sending daily caseloads soaring.”

The Washington Post (12/27, Abutaleb) reports that the agency “also cut the recommended quarantine time to five days for those exposed to the coronavirus who are not yet boosted,” and “recommended such people wear masks around others for an additional five days.” The CDC “said those exposed to the infection who have received booster shots do not need to quarantine, but should wear a mask for 10 days.”

Kaiser Health News (12/23, Miller) reported, “About 20% of the nation lives in rural America, but only about 10% of U.S. physicians practice in such areas,” figures from the National Conference of State Legislatures disclose, and “77% of the country’s rural counties are designated as health professional shortage areas.” One particular reason underlying “this lack of health care providers is what rural hospital officials call the ‘payer mix.’” Many patients lack insurance and cannot pay their medical bills. In addition, “a large share of rural hospitals’ patients are enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare,” both of which reimburse health care providers at a lower rate than private insurers do.

Bloomberg (12/28, LaVito) reports, “The Omicron variant is causing an increasing share of coronavirus infections in the U.S., though its climb to dominance has been gentler than earlier estimates indicated, according to an updated federal model.” The variant “accounted for an estimated 58.6% of sequenced U.S. virus cases in the week ending Dec. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Nowcast model showed Tuesday, up from an estimated 22.5% a week earlier.” Meanwhile, the Delta variant “accounted for 41.1% of cases in the most recent period, according to the CDC.”

Reuters (12/28, Banerjee) reports the CDC “also revised down the Omicron proportion of cases for the week ending Dec. 18 to 22% from 73%, citing additional data and the rapid spread of the variant that in part caused the discrepancy.”

The Hill (12/28, Beals) reports that on Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration “warned that antigen tests may be less effective in detecting the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19.” The agency announced, “Early data suggests that antigen tests do detect the Omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity.” In addition, the FDA “recommended a follow-up molecular test for people who are ‘experiencing symptoms or have a high likelihood of infection due to exposure’ even if they have tested negative with an antigen test.”

Bloomberg (12/29, LaVito) reports U.S. COVID-19 deaths “are declining even as...cases rise, according to federal health officials who suggested the surging Omicron variant may cause less suffering than other strains.” According to Bloomberg, “Cases jumped 60% from the prior week, in large part due to the Omicron variant, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing Wednesday,” while during “the same period, deaths fell 7% to a 7-day average of about 1,100 per day.”

Reuters (12/29, Aboulenein, Alper) reports that also during the same period, “the average daily hospitalization rate” was “up 14% to about 9,000 per day.”

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