CDC Reverses Guidance On Testing Asymptomatic People For COVID-19, Again

by Kristine Cannon
Dan Kitwood/Getty

Less than one month ago, the CDC stated that people without symptoms ‘don’t necessarily need a test,’ even if they had been exposed to the virus

About one month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tweaked its testing guidance, stating that healthy people who have been exposed to COVID-19 didn’t “necessarily need a test” as long as they didn’t have symptoms, the agency has changed its guidance — again — regarding testing asymptomatic people for the novel coronavirus. The updated guidance, posted to the CDC’s website on Friday, now states that those who have been in close contact, “such as within 6 feet of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection for at least 15 minutes and do not have symptoms,” will need a test.

“Please consult with your healthcare provider or public health official. Testing is recommended for all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the CDC adds. “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. Pending test results, you should self-quarantine/isolate at home and stay separated from household members to the extent possible and use a separate bedroom and bathroom, if available.”

The CDC continues to say that, even if you have a negative test, you should still self-isolate for 14 days.

The updated guidance was posted under the CDC’s Summary of Changes on their website.

“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 states.

The CDC faced swift backlash and criticism from public health experts — as well as local health departments and members of Congress — when it changed its guidance on Aug. 24. According to CNN, two sources told the publication that the August change was sent to the CDC by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and was supposed to go through a several-day vetting process, but the unaltered document was, instead, posted on the CDC’s website in its original form, which included errors.

This time around, though, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield assured CNN on Thursday that “the guidelines, coordinated in conjunction with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, received appropriate attention, consultation and input from task force experts.”

Today’s reversal has been described as “good news” by the Infectious Diseases Society of American (IDSA).

“The return to a science-based approach to testing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is good news for public health and for our united fight against this pandemic,” the community of physicians, scientists, and public health experts said in a statement, according to The Hill. “We urge officials to support the work of controlling this pandemic by following medical guidance of experts in the field.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, echoed the importance of testing asymptomatic people, telling MSNBC‘s Chris Hayes on Thursday night, “I can tell you right now that we should be testing more and we should be testing asymptomatic people. Take that to the bank and trust me on it.”