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CDC Reverses Testing Guidelines for People Without COVID-19 Symptoms

In August, PHI joined with 250+ leading health organizations to create and circulate an organizational sign-on letter urging a reversal of revisions in CDC guidelines around COVID testing. In mid-September, the CDC reversed the recommendations. PHI CEO Dr. Mary Pittman commented on the reversal for this New York Times story.

  • New York Times
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reversed a controversial recommendation suggesting people who have had close contact with a person infected with the coronavirus do not need to get tested if they have no symptoms.

The change comes after widespread criticism of the earlier guideline, as well as reporting from The New York Times that the recommendation came from political appointees in the Trump administration and skipped the agency’s usual rigorous scientific review.

The previous phrasing, which suggested asymptomatic people who have had close contact with an infected individual “do not necessarily need a test,” now clearly instructs them: “You need a test.”

Public health experts welcomed the change as consistent with research showing that people without symptoms can spread the virus to others.

“It’s good to see science and evidence taking a front seat for a change,” said Scott Becker, chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “It has been a wild few weeks.”

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, said, “I’m thrilled to see it, it clearly needed to be done.” But he worried the damage to the agency’s credibility would be long-lasting.

Public health organizations said they were relieved to see science prevail again.

PHI CEO and President Mary Pittman
It is critical that science, evidence and data continue to serve as the foundation of every C.D.C. recommendation.

Dr. Mary Pittman, president and chief executive of the Public Health Institute

The original guidance, posted on Aug. 24, drew sharp criticism even from the C.D.C.’s partners, including the Infectious Diseases Society of America, which urged its members to continue testing people without symptoms.

In a statement on Friday, Dr. Thomas File, the organization’s president, said, “The return to a science-based based approach to testing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is good news for public health.”

Several studies have shown that people can efficiently spread the virus even if they don’t have symptoms. Some research has suggested that they are actually most likely to transmit to others starting around a day before the onset of symptoms, when the viral load can be the highest.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, who served as the agency’s director under President Obama, said the new testing recommendation was “an encouraging step in the right direction and confirms the importance of testing close contacts of people with COVID.”

“Now,” he added, “the administration needs to show that political interference with C.D.C. science will never happen again.”

Dr. Susan Bailey, who heads the American Medical Association, a close partner of the C.D.C., said: “This decision acknowledges that our nation’s best interest is served when health care institutions are free to keep science at the fore of their decision-making and guidance.”

The new guidance also corrects some elementary errors C.D.C. scientists said they would never have made. It accurately refers to infection with the virus, for example, as opposed to the Covid-19 disease as the previous version did. And it does not refer to at-risk individuals as “vulnerable,” a term C.D.C. scientists generally avoid.

Click below to read the full story in The New York Times.

Originally published by New York Times

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