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The CDC had previously advised people who had been exposed to the virus to get tested, even if they were not showing symptoms, to limit spread

By Julie Mazziotta
August 26, 2020 05:20 PM
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A person in Los Angeles is tested for COVID-19
| Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty

The Centers for Disease Control’s decision to change their COVID-19 testing advice to say that people who have been exposed to the virus “do not necessarily need” to get tested if they are not showing symptoms was the result of pressure from high-level officials in the Trump administration, officials told CNN and The New York Times.

On Monday, the CDC quietly modified their testing guidelines, which had said that testing is “recommended” for close contacts of a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19, “because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission.”

The updated guidance said that people who have been in contact with a COVID-19 case for at least 15 minutes but are not showing symptoms “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.”

The change alarmed health experts, as previous research has shown that asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases are the cause of around half of COVID-19 transmission.

The shift in CDC guidelines came from the top of the Trump administration, federal health officials told CNN and the Times.

“It’s coming from the top down,” CNN’s source said. Another source told the Times that the CDC did not write the new guidelines themselves.

In response to reports the CDC testing guidelines were changed after pressure from the White House, a senior administration official told PEOPLE that “no one was pressured. That is false.”

The new guidelines are in line with President Donald Trump's repeated requests for less COVID-19 testing. In July, after more than a month of soaring case numbers and a record high of 75,500 new infections in one day, Trump incorrectly stated that the number of new cases would go down with less testing, and said that the number of tests "makes us look bad."

Admiral Brett M. Giroir, who was appointed by the Trump administration to lead the country’s COVID-19 testing, told CNN that the change was based on “current evidence.”

"This Guidance has been updated to reflect current evidence and best public health practices, and to further emphasize using CDC-approved prevention strategies to protect yourself, your family, and the most vulnerable of all ages,” he said.

Giroir also told CNN that the guideline change was approved during a Coronavirus Task Force meeting on Aug. 20. However, ABC News reported, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the task force, was under general anesthesia that day for surgery to remove a polyp on his vocal cords and was not able to agree on the change.

Health experts outside the administration have said the country needs more COVID-19 testing, not less. Giroir said that the updates to the CDC guidelines is to do more “appropriate” testing, not “less” testing.

“It cannot be interpreted that we are inhibiting local public health,” he said.

The number of positive cases in the U.S. are on the decline after two months of soaring rates of infection, but the country still has the highest caseload in the world. On Tuesday, there were 38,761 new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and 1,212 deaths, according to the Times. Since February, more than 5,803,700 Americans have tested positive for the virus and at least 178,779 people have died.

In New York, where testing is at one of the highest levels in the country and the positivity rate is now consistently below 1 percent, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he believes Trump is changing the guidelines to make his response to the pandemic look better.

“The only plausible rationale is they want fewer people taking tests because, as the president has said, if we don't take tests you won't know that people are COVID positive and the number of COVID positive people will come down," Cuomo told reporters during a press conference Wednesday. “It fosters his failed policy of denial.”

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