Enlarge /. Signage outside the headquarters of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday, March 14, 2020.
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In a dazzling and dangerous move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week silently reversed their recommendation on COVID-19 testing for those exposed to the virus. Now the CDC is saying that exposed but symptomless people do not need to be tested.
The change immediately alarmed and outraged public health and infectious disease experts. It is known that SARS-CoV-2 – the pandemic coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 – can cause completely asymptomatic infections in some and spread from other infected people before they develop symptoms (called "pre-symptomatic transmission" ). . Indeed, some model studies have shown that pre-symptomatic transmission can account for almost half or even more of the SARS-CoV-2 spread.
This information previously led the CDC to recommend testing for people who were known to have, or even suspected of, close contact with an infected person (that is, within six feet for at least 15 minutes).
"Tests are recommended for all close contacts of people with SARS-CoV-2 infection," the agency said on its website on August 22nd. "Because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, it is important that contacts from people with SARS-CoV-2 infection can be quickly identified and tested."
However, this evidence-based recommendation has disappeared. In its place, the agency now says that exposed or potentially exposed people "don't necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable person or your health care provider or state or local health authorities recommend you take one."
CDC previous recommendation dated August 22, 2020
Current recommendation of the CDC
When Ars reached out to the CDC to ask why the recommendation was changed and what evidence supported the new recommendation, the agency asked Ars to direct questions to the Department of Health and Human Services. It was advised that HHS intends to hold a press conference on testing at 2 p.m. ET today. We will update this post with any relevant information from this conference.
As the nation's premier health agency and one that has been independently keen to make a critical health recommendation for Americans, the CDC's shift from the HHS raises even more questions about changing testing recommendations. Amid the pandemic, the Trump administration has repeatedly undercut and withdrawn from the CDC, undermining trust in the agency and lowering its guidelines for safety in this historic global health crisis.
In other news on CDC's policies this week, the agency also made new recommendations for customer-focused employees at retail and service companies such as restaurants and gas stations. The CDC warns these employees of the risk of violence from those who refuse to follow recommended or required health measures.
"Workers can be threatened and attacked when companies attempt to implement COVID-19 prevention policies and practices (such as mandatory use of masks, social distancing and limiting the number of customers allowed in a company)," according to the CDC. The agency advises employees not to argue with people who threaten or appear violent. Instead, employees should report impending incidents to a manager or supervisor and find a safe area if necessary.