Coronavirus US: CDC director U-turns on testing asymptomatic

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The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has backtracked some of the agency’s changed guidelines on coronavirus testing.

Earlier this week, the CDC suddenly amended its testing recommendations to say that people who have come into contact with COVID-19 patients but don’t have symptoms ‘do not necessarily need a test.’

Public health experts admonished the agency, arguing more tests are needed, not fewer, and that it is well-known the virus can be spread by asymptomatic people.  

On Thursday, director Dr Robert Redfield issued a statement saying ‘testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients,’ The New York Times reported.

However, the new testing guidelines released on Monday remain on the CDC’s website and do not appear likely to change. 

CDC director Dr Robert Redfield (pictured) issued a statement on Thursday saying coronavirus ‘testing may be considered for all close contacts’ of COVID-19 patients

It comes after the CDC revised guidelines to say those exposed to the virus with no symptoms 'do not necessarily need a test' unless they are 'vulnerable individuals.' Pictured: Cindy Rivera, 19, self swabs for a coronavirus test in Rancho Cucamonga, California, August 20

It comes after the CDC revised guidelines to say those exposed to the virus with no symptoms ‘do not necessarily need a test’ unless they are ‘vulnerable individuals.’ Pictured: Cindy Rivera, 19, self swabs for a coronavirus test in Rancho Cucamonga, California, August 20

‘Testing is meant to drive actions and achieve specific public health objectives,’ Redfield wrote in his statement, defending the changed guidelines. 

‘Everyone who needs a COVID-19 test, can get a test. Everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test; the key is to engage the needed public health community in the decision with the appropriate follow-up action.’ 

He added that the CDC wants to focus on specific populations rather than just anyone who has come into contact with coronavirus patients.

Redfield says this includes:  

  • Individuals with symptomatic illness
  • Individuals with a significant exposure
  • Vulnerable populations including nursing homes or long term care facilities
  • Critical infrastructure workers, healthcare workers and first responders
  • Those individuals who may be asymptomatic when prioritized by medical and public health officials

An official told The Times that the director was attempting to clarify the policy change with his statement.

But many experts fear that the less aggressive testing guidance could allow cases to go undetected and spur future outbreaks.

‘This is potentially dangerous,’ Dr Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious disease physician in Palo Alto, California, told The Times.

‘You’re not looking for a lot of people who are potential spreaders of disease. I feel like this is going to make things worse.’

According to CDC guidelines, ‘close contact’ is defined as spending more than 15 minutes with a person with a COVID-19 infection and less than six feet away.

‘You do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or State or local public health officials recommend you take one.’ the agency’s website states.

‘You should monitor yourself for symptoms. If you develop symptoms, you should evaluate yourself under the considerations set forth above.’

Other testing guidelines remained unchanged, including regular testing for those who work or live in nursing home, healthcare providers and first responders.

The CDC did not explain the reason for the change, but Redfield said the new guidelines were ‘coordinated in conjunction with the White House Coronavirus Task Force’ in his statement 

During a media call with reporters on Wednesday, US ‘testing czar’ Adm Brett Giroir said the updated recommendations were discussed with members of the White House coronavirus task force, including Dr Anthony Fauci.

But Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told CNN he ‘was under general anesthesia in the operating room and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding the new testing recommendations.’

Several media reports say the CDC was pressured into changing the guidelines from top officials at the White House and Department of the Health and Human Services.  

President Donald Trump has argued for less testing, claiming that case numbers are increasing due to test administration.

However, clinicians say this is inaccurate and that the true measure of how well the country is doing is the rate of tests coming back positive. 

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