CDC rolls out controversial new coronavirus testing guidelines as Trump aide refers to pandemic in past tense

'These are exactly the people who should be tested,' Dr Leana Wen said

Graig Graziosi
Wednesday 26 August 2020 20:07
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The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention was pressured to change to its Covid-19 test guidelines from the Trump administration, according to officials familiar with the decision.

Under the CDC's new guidelines, individuals who aren't showing symptoms may not need to be tested for Covid-19, even if they have been in close contact with someone who has the virus.

The change was made to the CDC's site on Monday.

An unnamed official told CNN the change in protocol was the result of top officials in the Trump administration pressuring the agency.

"It's coming from the top down," the official reportedly said.

The updated guidelines are as follows: "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."

CNN reported that prior to this update, the CDC's page said this: "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."

Under the new guidance, individuals without Covid-19 symptoms and who have not been in close contact with a known carrier of the virus do not need a test.

Some health experts are baffled by the CDC's messaging.

Dr Leana Wen, an emergency room doctor and public health professor at George Washington University, said the updated guidelines make no sense.

"These are exactly the people who should be tested," Dr Wen said. "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."

The CDC's website claims that "not everyone needs to be tested" and that those who do get tested should self-quarantine until they get their results back.

Dr Wen questioned the motives of the CDC's sudden change in messaging.

"This is key to contact tracing, especially given that up to 50 per cent of all transmission is due to people who do not have symptoms" she said. "One wonders why these guidelines were changed - is it to justify continued deficit of testing?"

Dr Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease specialist who spoke with CNN, said the CDC has not provided any of the evidence the US Department of Health and Human Services claims triggered the change in policy.

"I mean, the evidence that I'm aware of today is that close to 40 per cent of the cases of the infections are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people transmit the infection," Dr Del Rio said.

He said that anyone who has had prolonged exposure to someone without a mask should be tested, even if they don't show symptoms.

"So, not testing -- I mean, if you have been in contact with somebody for a few minutes, that's okay. But if you have been in contact for 50 minutes and that people doesn't have a mask, I think you need to be tested regardless if you have symptoms or not," Dr Del Rio said. "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."

Donald Trump has claimed - incorrectly - on numerous occasions that the US's coronavirus infection numbers were only high because of the amount of testing the US was doing.

A spokesperson at the US Department of Health and Human Services said the update would not impact contact tracing efforts.

"The updated guidance does not undermine contact tracing or any other types of surveillance testing," the spokesman said.

The CDC's new guidelines were introduced on the same day that the Republican National Convention began in Charlotte, North Carolina. Convention speakers have painted Mr Trump as having expertly navigated the pandemic and - at least in the case of Mr Trump's trade adviser, Larry Kudlow - even treated the pandemic as though it is over.

During his address at the RNC on Tuesday, Mr Kudlow referred to the pandemic in the past tense, suggesting it is nothing more than a bad memory and not an ongoing global health crisis.

"It was awful," Mr Kudlow said. "Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere. But presidential leadership came swiftly and effectively, with an extraordinary rescue for health and safety to successfully fight the Covid virus."

Nearly 180,000 people have died in the US as a result of the virus. While the US is home to about 4 per cent of the world's population, nearly 25 per cent of the global deaths due to Covid have occurred here.

Unemployment is still at 10 per cent, and people desperate to make ends meet are still holding out hope that the government will extend unemployment extensions that recently expired.

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