U.S. Health Authority Sort of Clarifies Its New Coronavirus Testing Guidelines

Robert Redfield testifying at a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on Capitol Hill on July 31, 2020  (Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool, Getty Images)
Robert Redfield testifying at a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on Capitol Hill on July 31, 2020 (Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool, Getty Images)

After the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance this week to say that people who have been exposed to the coronavirus but don’t have symptoms don’t necessarily need to be tested for it, the health agency’s director issued a statement that “testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable covid-19 patients.” Federal officials insist this is simply a clarification of the guidance, not a walk-back.

In a statement released late Wednesday, Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC, said, “We are placing an emphasis on testing 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, or those individuals who may be asymptomatic when prioritised by medical and public health officials.”

The change in guidance made by the agency this week advised that people without symptoms who suspect or know they’ve been exposed to the virus do not “necessarily need” to get tested, unless their doctor or local health officials tell them otherwise.

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Soon after Redfield’s statement was made public, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told The Hill that Redfield was only “amplifying and explaining” the guidance, not altering it in any form. The guidance itself remains unchanged in its language on the CDC website as of Thursday afternoon.

Yesterday, both the NYT and Politico reported that the guidance was forced upon the CDC from higher-up officials in the Trump administration, according to anonymous officials who spoke to the reporters. It was also revealed yesterday that Anthony Fauci, long seen as one of the few credible experts with some semblance of input in the government’s pandemic response, was under general anesthesia during a surgery to remove throat polyps when the final changes in the CDC guidelines were made.

Though Fauci later told NBC News that he didn’t feel there was an “end-run” around him in the timing of this change, he, like many outside experts, expressed concern that the guidance could confuse people into thinking that being asymptomatic with covid-19 isn’t something to take seriously. Experts have consistently called for wide-scale testing, even of people without symptoms, since they can likely spread the virus to others while never feeling sick or shortly before symptoms appear.

There have been positive developments in the pandemic as of late, with declining trends in daily new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths nationally. Unfortunately, the same dysfunction and political manoeuvring continues to plague the federal government’s response to covid-19 as it did earlier in the year. Any reduction in testing, while it might be good PR for the administration by reducing the official number of positive cases, puts people at risk and makes it harder to track and contain the virus.