Health experts are sounding the alarm after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) abruptly modified its guidelines on coronavirus testing. Now, the CDC's revised COVID-19 testing guidelines no longer recommend testing people who have been exposed to the virus but show no symptoms. With recent research estimating that as many as 40% of COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic, critics of the CDC's recent change have warned it could have dangerous and even deadly consequences.
After long recommending that anyone who has been within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more get tested for COVID-19, the CDC released new guidance Monday that claimed such individuals may not need to get tested. "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 CDC's new guidance stated.
When questioned about the change, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Brett Giroir told CNN the CDC's testing guidance had 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."
For many health experts, however, it was unclear what current evidence and best public health practices Giroir was referring to. "The CDC just revised their testing guidance to exclude people without symptoms," Alison Galvani, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis and Yale's Burnett and Stender Families' professor of epidemiology, tweeted Tuesday. "Our work on the 'silent' spread underscores the importance of testing people who have been exposed to #COVID-19 regardless of symptoms. This change in policy will kill."
In a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) in July, Galvani and other researchers found the majority of COVID-19's transmission could be attributed to people who did not exhibit symptoms either because they were asymptomatic or presymptomatic. Galvani's findings were similar to those of a study published in JAMA in May, which found that 42.3% of analyzed COVID-19 patients were asymptomatic.
"The guidelines baffle me and I really don't understand them," infectious disease specialist and Emory University School of Medicine associate dean Dr. Carlos del Rio told CNN of the CDC's revised testing guidelines. "I mean, the evidence that I'm aware of as of today is that close to 40% of the cases of the infections are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people transmit the infection." Del Rio advised anyone who has been in contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 for more than a few minutes to get tested regardless of whether they are exhibiting symptoms.
While the HHS has claimed the new guidelines are a reflection of "current evidence," they follow comments President Donald Trump made in support of slowing the country's COVID-19 testing. "When you do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people, you're going to find more cases," ABC News reported Trump told a crowd of supporters in Oklahoma in June. "So I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please.'"
Trump later claimed he hadn't actually directed testing to be slowed but repeatedly blamed the country's recent surge in COVID-19 cases on testing. "Instead of 25 million tests, let's say we did 10 million tests," Trump told CBN News. "We'd look like we were doing much better because we'd have far fewer cases."
According to the COVID Tracking Project, the United States has carried out more than 73 million COVID-19 tests since the pandemic began in March. More than 5.7 million of those tests have come back positive.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.