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My Coast Guard
Commentary | April 9, 2024

CDC updates guidance for respiratory viral illnesses to include COVID

By CDR Deborah S. Belsky, Health, Safety, and Work-Life, COMDT (CG-1K21)

The height of the winter viral season is waning, but Coast Guard personnel are encouraged to take measures to reduce their risk of contracting respiratory viruses, which are easily spread when in close contact with sick or recently ill shipmates, family, friends or acquaintances. Such illnesses can negatively impact health, duty availability, and mission readiness.  

The latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) consolidates the prior COVID Guidance into a Respiratory Virus Guidance focusing on the core measures that provide the most protection across all respiratory viruses, including COVID-19. The updated guidance emphasizes the importance of staying home when sick with fever and not to return to work until 24 hours fever free and off anti-fever medications to prevent spreading illness to others. If feeling well enough to return to work, masking for an additional 5 days will help reduce spread of infection.  Effective prevention actions to reduce catching or spreading viruses include:  

  • masking 
  • hand-washing 
  • increased ventilation (e.g., meet outdoors or open a window), and  
  • social distancing. 

For congregate settings, healthcare settings, and afloat units, stricter adherence to prevention measures is recommended, i.e. mask wearing by the unit when flu and COVID-19 are circulating, frequent surface cleaning, social distancing, and increasing ventilation where possible to reduce viral transmission. 

The CDC’s updated Respiratory Virus Guidance publication includes COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses like influenza ("the flu"), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Immunity from past COVID infections and COVID vaccinations along with medications to reduce the severity of COVID infection has reduced the b overall risk for severe illness and hospitalization.  Since risk from COVID-19 is similar to that of other respiratory illnesses, the CDC consolidated its guidance to apply broadly to respiratory viral illnesses. The CG follows the CDC guidance. A typical respiratory viral infection causes cold symptoms such as cough, sore throat, fever, fatigue, headache and body aches. 

"Respiratory viruses are certainly not all the same,” the CDC notes on its website. “As such, this guidance is not meant to apply to specialized situations, like healthcare or certain disease outbreaks, in which more detailed guidance specific to the pathogen may be warranted." 

The updated COVID-19 vaccination is recommended to add protection against new variants of the virus, however, it is not currently required. The RSV vaccination is recommended for select groups, and most active-duty personnel do not fall into the eligible population, except for pregnant women and personnel over 60 years of age. 

Maintain a prevention mindset to support a mission ready posture.  Everyone responds to illness differently.  Sometimes a virus lasts a few days and work is no problem.  Other times, it can take a week or more until feeling back to normal strength.  However, even when not feeling very ill, viruses can easily spread in congregate settings, so be kind to your shipmates and consider masking up to prevent others from getting sick, particularly during the winter respiratory virus season.   

For more information, see the CDC website: Respiratory Virus Guidance