In a decision that has left many public health specialists confused and suspicious, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has abruptly changed its testing guidelines for covid-19. According to the agency, individuals who have probably been exposed to an infected individual do not necessarily need to get examined for covid-19 in the event that they’re not experiencing symptoms. Previously, the agency recommended testing for anybody with a known or suspected exposure to the coronavirus.
Scientists have long advocated for vigilant testing of people who might have been exposed to the virus, no matter whether or not they really feel sick. For one, it’s strongly suspected that individuals can spread the virus while asymptomatic or shortly before they develop signs. So testing, if performed quickly enough, could possibly identify newly infected people, who could then quarantine. Secondly, a positive test can prompt an investigation by contact tracers, who then might be able to trace the source of an outbreak and stop it from spiraling out of control. This is much less possible in areas of high community transmission, however a lack of testing in the first place can contribute to that happening.
For individuals who have been in close contact with somebody who has covid-19 (no matter how long the interaction lasted) but aren’t feeling sick, the CDC now advises that they do not necessarily need a test until they have preexisting health conditions or have been instructed to get one by their doctor or state and local public health officers. It also discourages folks with no signs who do not believe that they’ve been exposed to anybody with covid-19 recently from getting tested at all. Beforehand, the CDC recognized the testing of asymptomatic people as an important approach to “control transmission.”
Other guidelines still encourage some people to self-isolate for as much as two weeks if they think they may very well be contaminated (if for example, they’re caregivers of somebody with covid-19), however many specialists have been sharply critical of the new modifications and worry that it will result in much less overall testing.
Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC, said on Twitter Wednesday that the change in testing guidance was inexplicable, “probably indefensible,” and may have been forced upon the CDC; he additionally criticized another change in recommendation by the CDC, which no longer explicitly requires travelers getting back from abroad or out-of-state to self-isolate for 2 weeks (both changes seem to have been made on Monday). President Trump has repeatedly downplayed the need for testing and called for it to slow down, suggesting that it only serves to make his administration look bad.
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