The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shocked doctors across the country with a major change in its Covid-19 testing guidelines. After reported pressure from the Trump administration, the CDC now say that testing for those that have been in close contact with someone known to have the virus is not completely necessary.
Previous guidelines encouraged viral testing for those who suspected they had been exposed to the virus, even if no symptoms had been exhibited. “Testing is recommended for all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, it is important that contacts of individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection be quickly identified and tested,” the CDC website read previously.
Last week saw the recommendations change, however, and the website now says: “If you have been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes but do not have symptoms, 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.” “Not everyone needs to be tested,” the agency’s website says. “If you do get tested, you should self-quarantine/isolate at home pending test results and follow the advice of your health care provider or a public health professional.”
CNN have reported that a senior federal health official close to the process told them that the sudden change arose at the behest of those in the upper ranks of the Trump administration.
“This Guidance has been updated to reflect current evidence and best public health practices, and to further emphasize using CDC-approved prevention strategies to protect yourself, your family, and the most vulnerable of all ages,” Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Dr. Brett Giroir said in a statement. “The updated Guidance places an emphasis on testing individuals with symptomatic illness, those with a significant exposure or for vulnerable populations, including residents and staff in nursing homes or long term care facilities, critical infrastructure workers, healthcare workers and first responders, and those individuals (who may be asymptomatic) when prioritized by public health officials,” the statement continued.
The new evidence that resulted in the change has not yet been specified and doctors across the country have been left puzzled by the CDC’s decision to change their guidelines, as well as the lack of reasoning behind it.”I’m concerned that these recommendations suggest someone who has had substantial exposure to a person with Covid-19 now doesn’t need to get tested,” Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University who was previously Baltimore’s health commissioner, said. “This is key to contact tracing, especially given that up to 50% of all transmission is due to people who do not have symptoms. One wonders why these guidelines were changed — is it to justify continued deficit of testing?”
With President Trump saying in the past that he is not the biggest fan of testing because it increases the detection of new cases, doctors and healthcare experts are expressing concern that the CDC’s decision was motivated by political reasons, rather than being based on sound medical advice. “But if you have been in contact for 15 minutes and that people doesn’t have a mask, I think you need to be tested regardless if you have symptoms or not,” Dr. Carlos del Rio, infectious disease specialist and associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto last week. “We know especially young people going into the house and then transmit inside the household. So, the guidelines baffle me and I really don’t understand them.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Coronavirus Task Force member and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that he was having surgery while the task force meeting that determined the change took place.
“I was under general anesthesia in the operating room and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding the new testing recommendations,” Dr. Fauci said. “I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is,” he added. Fauci’s claims contradict those of Brett Giroir, the administration’s coronavirus testing point person, who previously said that the change in CDC guidelines had received the green light from the coronavirus task force. When asked, Giroir claimed that Fauci and ‘all the doctors’ had signed off on the idea.
“We worked on this all together to make sure that there was absolute consensus that reflected the best possible evidence, and the best public health for the American people,” Giroir said. “I worked on them, Dr. Fauci worked on them, Dr. (Deborah) Birx worked on them. Dr. (Stephen) Hahn worked on them.”