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CDC says people exposed to coronavirus may not need testing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that most individuals who have been exposed to the coronavirus but are not showing symptoms may not need to be tested.

Previously, the CDC recommended that “all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection” be tested, due to “the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission.” Revisions made on August 24, however, now suggest that only certain groups need to be tested after exposure.

As of Monday, the CDC recommends that people who have been within six feet of someone with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes, but do not have symptoms, “do not necessarily need a test.” The agency recommends that if you “are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or state or local public health officials recommend you take one.” 

“Vulnerable individuals” are defined as elderly people, as well as those with underlying health conditions, according to the agency. The CDC lists eight conditions that put a person at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and numerous other conditions that “might” indicate risk.

The updated guidance also warns that just because an exposed individual tests negative, it doesn’t mean that an infection won’t develop “at a later time.”

The CDC recommends continuing to monitor for symptoms and if symptoms do develop, individuals should adhere to the agency’s guidelines. 

And the CDC still warns that infected asymptomatic individuals may spread the virus  — they may “feel well and have no symptoms.”

Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Admiral Brett P. Giroir, said Wednesday that the change was made to give more power and support to local public health officials.

HHS said in a a statement to CBS News that the guidance was updated “to place an emphasis on testing individuals for both clinical and/or public health reasons, including the testing of asymptomatic people when directed by public health leaders or health care providers.” The agency added that “the updated guidance is to ensure testing is used appropriately and individuals are protecting themselves and others.”

Giroir, who leads HHS’ COVID-19 diagnostic testing efforts, said the decision was approved by agency leaders, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, before it was presented to the White House coronavirus task force led by Vice President Pence. Asked specifically about Fauci’s approval during a telephone briefing, Giroir told reporters “all doctors signed off on this,” and the document “was approved by the task force by consensus.”

But in an interview with CNN Wednesday, Fauci said that he was under anesthesia for his vocal cord surgery when the task force was meeting to discuss changing testing guidance. “I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption asymptomatic spread is not of great concern,” he said. “In fact it is.”

In response to criticism of the change by public health experts, Giroir said its goal is to test prospectively, with data and strategy in mind. “Unless they believe that everyone, every day should be tested at their own whim, they really can’t argue with this,” he said.

Giroir emphasized that testing should be done based on individual circumstances and community spread, explaining that as cases go down in a community, so will its need for testing.

“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,” reads the HHS statement. 

The U.S. has over 5 million coronavirus cases, the most of any country, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. 

Giroir said the agency does not expect the new CDC guidance to have an effect on the volume of testing in the U.S. In fact, he said it anticipates the volume will rise in the next couple of months as more people return to work and school and are regularly tested.

“We’re trying to get appropriate testing, not less testing,” he said. 

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