ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty A person in Los Angeles is tested for COVID-19
The director of the Centers for Disease Control backtracked on the agency’s changes to its COVID-19 testing guidelines after criticism from public health experts, including Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The CDC changed testing guidelines on Monday to say that people who have been exposed to the virus “do not necessarily need” to get tested if they are not showing symptoms, alarming experts and Fauci, who said Wednesday that he was undergoing surgery when the Task Force agreed to change the wording.
In a statement shared on Thursday, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield clarified that “testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients.” However, the CDC’s guidelines have not been changed on its website as of Thursday afternoon.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield
“Testing is meant to drive actions and achieve specific public health objectives,” Redfield said in his statement, The New York Times reported. “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.”
Public health experts have argued, however, that more testing is better, especially for people who have come in contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases. A lack of symptoms does not mean that a person does not have COVID-19 — research has found that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people are the cause of around 50 percent of virus transmission.
“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," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN Wednesday night, in response to the guideline change.
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Redfield said that the CDC’s intention was to prioritize testing for the most at-risk populations.
The updated guidelines, he said, 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, health care workers and first responders, or those individuals who may be asymptomatic when prioritized by medical and public health officials.”
The CDC made the changes after pressure from top officials in the Trump administration, sources told CNN and the Times on Wednesday. A senior administration official denied those claims, telling PEOPLE that “no one was pressured. That is false.”
The new guidelines are in line with President Donald Trump's repeated requests for less COVID-19 testing. In July, after more than a month of soaring case numbers and a record high of 75,500 new infections in one day, Trump incorrectly stated that the number of new cases would go down with less testing, and said that the number of tests "makes us look bad."
New cases of COVID-19 are on the decline in the U.S. after two months of soaring rates of infection, but the country still has the highest caseload in the world. On Wednesday, there were 44,934 new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and 1,193 deaths, according to the Times. Since February, more than 5,837,800 Americans have tested positive for the virus and at least 179,604 people have died.
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