The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made several changes to their coronavirus guidance over the last eight months to reflect the latest research surrounding the highly infectious virus. On Tuesday, the CDC surprised health experts with their latest update involving testing.
According to the CDC website, people without symptoms no longer need to be tested for COVID-19—even if they have been in contact with others who have tested positive.
"If you have been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes but do not have symptoms, you do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or State or local public health officials recommend you take one," reads the new update.
This news seemed to surprise Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and a member of the coronavirus task force. "I was under general anesthesia in the operating room"—to remove a polyp on his vocal cord—"and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding the new testing recommendations," Fauci told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who read Fauci's statement on air. "I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact it is." Read on to decide when you should get tested, and to keep yourself and others safe during this pandemic, don't miss this essential list of the Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
'Not Everyone Needs to Be Tested' but Dr. Fauci Disagrees
"Not everyone needs to be tested," the agency's website says. "If you do get tested, you should self-quarantine/isolate at home pending test results and follow the advice of your health care provider or a public health professional."
The CDC still encourages testing for anyone who is symptomatic, and issued a reminder about asymptomatic spread. "It is important to realize that you can be infected and spread the virus but feel well and have no symptoms," they explain.
This is noticeably different from their previous suggestion, which urged the importance of viral testing if an individual had been exposed to the virus. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that was important, previously.
"A spokesperson from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, which Fauci leads, said that Fauci recalled 'quickly reviewing a version of the guidelines' that had circulated previously," according to NBC News. "At the time he was not struck by the potential implications of this particular change in the version he reviewed," the spokesperson said. "Now reading them carefully, he has some concern that the revised guidelines could be interpreted as lessening the importance of asymptomatic spread of virus in the community," the spokesperson said, adding that "if people who come into close and prolonged contact with a documented case of COVID-19 become infected and are asymptomatic and are not tested and given results in a timely fashion, then asymptomatic spread to others could occur."
'This is Potentially Dangerous,' Says Another Expert
"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 CDC's statement read.
Some experts are concerned that this latest guidance will prevent the identification of cases during the period of time before the onset of symptoms — which is when they could be the most contagious.
"This is potentially dangerous," Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious disease physician in Palo Alto, Calif, told the New York Times. Restricting testing to only people with obvious symptoms of Covid-19 means "you're not looking for a lot of people who are potential spreaders of disease," she added. "I feel like this is going to make things worse."
"Wow, that is a walk-back," added Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the University of California's Keck School of Medicine. "We're in the middle of a pandemic, and that's a really big change."
Dr. Butler-Wu also pointed out to the NYT that she is worried people would misinterpret the guidelines as implying that those without symptoms were not able to spread the virus to others — which science has proved to be false.
The NYT reached out to the CDC and asked them about the reason for the shift in recommendation. A representative for the organization directed the questions to the Department of Health and Human Services, who told them that "the decision to be tested should be one made in collaboration with public health officials or your health care provider based on individual circumstances and the status of community spread." As for yourself: to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.