CDC Backtracks on Controversial Virus Testing Guideline Change

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines Friday saying people who have had close contacts with someone with a coronavirus infection need a test, even if they don’t have symptoms.

The change came after a controversy in late August, when the agency suggested those people didn’t need Covid-19 screenings.

People who don’t have symptoms and aren’t close contacts of an infected person still don’t require a screening, unless it’s recommended by a medical provider or public-health official, according to the latest CDC statement.

The August shift on testing asymptomatic individuals had said testing might not be needed for asymptomatic close contacts. It was slammed by public-health experts, who said it could reduce the amount of testing performed in the U.S.

Brett Giroir, a top Trump administration official overseeing coronavirus testing, defended the change in a briefing last month as intended to illustrate the limitations of the virus screenings and said the new guidelines were “a CDC action.” But the New York Times reported on Thursday that the guidelines were rewritten by the Department of Health and Human Services and released in spite of CDC scientists’ opposition.

The testing guidelines released Friday were also changed by HHS and didn’t go through the CDC’s typical review, according to the Times report.

HHS and CDC didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

Public-health experts have advocated for mass testing as a means of identifying virus cases and preventing further spread, but the U.S. has yet to achieve a system of widespread, easy-to-access, quick-turnaround screenings. While availability of testing to people with symptoms has improved significantly over the course of the pandemic, those without symptoms can still face barriers.

Experts worried the CDC guidance — which applied to both asymptomatic close contacts as well as those who attended large, risky gatherings but had no symptoms — would exacerbate those challenges.

According to the new recommendations, those who are in an area of high virus transmission and go to a large gathering with spotty public-health precautions may be advised to get a Covid-19 test by their doctor or a public-health official.

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