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CDC reverses controversial advice about who should be tested for novel coronavirus

Those who've been in close contact with infected people should get tested
CDC drops controversial testing advice that caused backlash
Posted at 10:38 PM, Sep 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-18 23:26:58-04

NEW YORK (AP/WFTS) — U.S. health officials are dropping a controversial piece of coronavirus guidance and telling all those who have been in close contact with infected people to get tested.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) essentially returned to its previous guidance about such tests.

"Due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, this guidance further reinforces the need to test asymptomatic persons, including close contacts of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection," the CDC wrote in a "clarification" posted Friday.

With the change, the CDC got rid of language posted last month that said people who didn’t feel sick didn’t need to get tested.

That August change set off a rash of criticism from health experts who couldn’t fathom why the nation’s top public health agency would say such a thing amid a pandemic that has been difficult to control.

The New York Times reports that last month's change was not actually written by CDC scientists and was posted to the agency’s website despite their serious objections. It reportedly came from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The CDC website now says 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 agency writes.

The agency released this statement:

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has posted a clarification document to its testing guidance posted on August 24 . This is a detailed follow-up to Dr. Redfield’s testing guidance clarification statement on August 27. This document provides clarity on testing as part of our medical and public health response to asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals in coordination with medical and public health officials.

People who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should be tested, even if they don’t have symptoms of COVID-19. While waiting for test results, it is important to stay home to avoid spreading the disease.

Even if you have a negative test, you should stay home for 14 days and monitor your health closely if you had close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Current science shows that testing people who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 is an important part of preventing disease transmission. People who have COVID-19 can still spread the virus before they show symptoms (presymptomatic spread) or if they don’t develop symptoms (asymptomatic spread). As we continue learning more about this disease, CDC may provide additional information about when a person is most likely to test positive and be infectious with COVID-19.

CDC continues to recommend that everyone follow the COVID-19 mitigations efforts of mask wearing, good hand hygiene, practicing social distancing when possible and being smart about crowds. We also encourage everyone to get the flu vaccine."

"The critical issue though is at what time do you get tested after exposure? And early on, you had a lot of people that were getting tested too early. We’re getting a false result and that was giving a false sense of security," said Dr. Scott Hopes, a member of the Manatee County school board and Adjunct Professor of Health Services Administration at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

He believes the new guidance will have an impact on identifying asymptomatic cases.

"I think it will have an impact. I think we, as a school district in Manatee County, we’re going to have to incorporate this new guidance into our protocols because now, we do have guidance that says, 'Yes, actually what all of us have known for a long time,' or most of us, you should be testing people who are asymptomatic if they’ve been exposed," he said. "Principally, because keep in mind it may be that those people aren’t being quarantined long enough."

Meanwhile, health experts are urging people to continue wearing their masks and social distance.

"This is like a long-term chronic situation we’re in, like taking blood pressure medication just please please please keep wearing those masks because that’s the one thing that’s really been shown, along with the social distancing to keep this thing under control," said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a distinguished university professor in the USF College of Public Health.

He's been following the data. He says once mask ordinance went into effect, the number of new cases eventually started declining mid-July until flattening out later in August. However, he's seeing a slight change now.

"Over the last, I’d say seven days or so, we’re starting to see a little bit rumblings of an increase in case numbers again, suggesting that the roller coaster may be on, way up onto a second peak so that’s not a good thing," he said.