CDC reverses course on testing asymptomatic people for Covid-19, yet again

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their guidelines again on Friday after an outcry from public health officials, saying asymptomatic people who have come in contact with Covid-19 should be tested. The updated guidance aligns more closely with previous recommendations.

“If you have been in close contact, for example within 6 feet of a person with a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection for at least 15 minutes and you are not having symptoms, you need of a test, ”the CDC posted on its website on Friday, referring to the virus that causes Covid-19.

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The change comes after a notable change in communications strategy at the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC. On Wednesday, top HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo, who has been accused of watering down scientific guidance, announced he would be taking time off for health reasons. On Sunday, Caputo posted a video discussing conspiracy theories about the CDC on his Facebook page.

“When this was posted on the CDC website, I and many other people said there was no way in the world that was written by a public health expert,” Dr Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC and current chairman of Resolve to Save Lives, a global public health initiative, said on MSNBC Friday. “It just flies in the face of basic public health control measures. “

Frieden said the change likely could have reduced the number of people tested, which would certainly have hampered contact tracing efforts.

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Testing people who have been exposed to the virus, even if they don’t feel sick, is key to stopping chains of transmission.

The country’s leading infectious disease specialist, Dr Anthony Fauci, echoed the importance of testing.

“I can tell you now that we should test more and we should test asymptomatic people,” Fauci told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes Thursday night. “Take this to the bank and trust me. “

Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was not present when the changes to testing guidelines in August were finalized, as he was undergoing surgery. A spokesperson for NIAID later said Fauci had “some concern” about the revisions.

In the updated CDC guidelines, the agency cited the “importance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission” of the virus to reinforce the need to test close contacts of infected patients.

In a statement Friday, the CDC said that “people with Covid-19 can still spread the virus before they show symptoms (presymptomatic spread) or if they do not develop symptoms (asymptomatic spread).”

However, this is not new information; Dr Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, acknowledged in April that some cases may be asymptomatic, and research published in May reported a higher figure, around 40 percent.

On Friday, the CDC said the new recommendation was intended to be a “document clarifying its testing guidelines released” in August.

The CDC does not specify which people can or should be tested for the coronavirus. These decisions are left to local and national health authorities and depend, in some cases, on the availability of tests.

Indeed, following the August change, several states, including New York and Washington, said they would not follow instructions not to test asymptomatic people.

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“We’re going to have this virus with us for a long time,” Frieden said, adding that this doesn’t necessarily mean businesses and schools can’t safely reopen in the meantime.

“We can only do this by working together and following the science,” he said. This includes wearing masks, washing your hands, and keeping as far away as possible.

The CDC also recommends that people self-isolate or self-quarantine at home and stay separate from other household members while waiting for test results. “Just one negative test does not mean you will stay negative all the time after that test. Even if you test negative, you still need to self-isolate for 14 days, ”according to the agency’s website.

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