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Why Did The CDC Change Course On Testing?

West Virginia is holding its own against the Covid-19 virus.  The latest DHHR figures have the cumulative percent positive rate at just 2.33 percent. That is well below the national average of nearly eight percent.

This and other statistics from DHHR show that the virus is at a manageable level, indicating that policies and practices of the state, our institutions and our citizens are working.

We can have confidence in the numbers because of the amount of testing that has been done.  The DHHR dashboard shows 403,394 laboratory test results reported as of yesterday morning.  That represents nearly one-fourth of the state’s population.

Widespread testing has been one of the state’s most valuable tools, alerting individuals as to whether they are infected and enabling health officials to do contact tracing to minimize the spread.

The same story, although not always with the same level of success as West Virginia, is repeated in many other states.  Testing of both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals provides valuable information to government and health officials as they make critical decisions about the way forward.

With all that in mind, it is more than curious that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week quietly shifted its recommendation on testing.

The CDC now says if you have been in close contact with a person who is infected, “you do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or State or local health officials recommend you take one.”

Previously, the CDC guidance said “testing is recommended” for all those who have come in close contact with an infected individual.  The agency has also said that up to 40 percent of people infected with Covid-19 are asymptomatic.

The CDC offered no explanation for the change, referring questions to the Department of Health and Human Services.  The agency issued a statement saying the guidance was updated “to reflect current evidence and best public health practices,” but did not elaborate on what that “current evidence” is.

The Hill reports, “The move drew widespread criticism and confusion from public health experts, who said that testing to identify asymptomatic people with the virus is important and that the change could undermine contact tracing, a core strategy for slowing the spread of the virus.”

Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious disease physician in Palo Alto, California, told the New York Times, that limiting testing to individuals who are already sick means “you’re not looking for a lot of people are potentially spreaders of the disease.  I feel like this is going to make things worse.”

Several media outlets quote sources linking the guideline change to the Trump administration, since the President has frequently criticized the amount of testing being performed. But as ABC News reported, “Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and Adm. Brett Giroir, Trump’s coordinator on testing efforts, told Congress last June that Trump had never asked them to slow down testing efforts. Giroir at the time said he was proceeding in the opposite direction.”

Americans rely on the nation’s top health officials for accurate and consistent guidance. Granted, the fact that this is a new virus means that guidance has changed as more information has become available.

However, the CDC’s quietly updated testing guidelines with little additional explanation only serves to add to the confusion, while diminishing the importance of a critical tool to keep the virus in check.


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