CDC reverses COVID-19 testing guidance again, says people exposed but without symptoms need tests

Coronavirus

FILE – In this Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 file photo, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield pauses while speaking at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on a “Review of Coronavirus Response Efforts” on Capitol Hill in Washington. On Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, the CDC dropped a controversial piece of coronavirus guidance and said anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person should get tested. The CDC essentially returned to its previous testing guidance, getting rid of language posted last month that said people who didn’t feel sick didn’t need to get tested. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — U.S. health officials on Friday dropped a controversial piece of coronavirus guidance and said anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person should get tested.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention essentially returned to its previous testing guidance, getting rid of language posted last month that said people who didn’t feel sick didn’t need to get tested.

That change had set off some criticism from health experts who couldn’t fathom why the nation’s top public health agency would say such a thing amid a pandemic that has been difficult to control.

It was “not consistent with the basic principles of controlling an epidemic,” said Dr. Silvia Chiang, a pediatric infectious diseases expert at Brown University who applauded the change announced Friday.

Before Aug. 24, the CDC had encouraged testing for all those who were exposed. Friday’s guidance update effectively returns the CDC’s testing guidance to what it said before it was altered in late August.

Reuters reported that a majority of U.S. states rejected the CDC’s Aug. 24 guidance in an extraordinary rebuke of the nation’s top agency for disease prevention.

The CDC now says anyone who has been within 6 feet of a person with documented infection for at least 15 minutes should get a test.

The agency called the changes a “clarification” that was needed “due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission.”

The new recommendation, as listed on the CDC website, says:

If you have been in close contact, such as within 6 feet of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection for at least 15 minutes and do not have symptoms.

  • You need a test. Please consult with your healthcare provider or public health official. Testing is recommended for all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, it is important that contacts of individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection be quickly identified and tested. Pending test results, you should self-quarantine/isolate at home and stay separated from household members to the extent possible and use a separate bedroom and bathroom, if available.
    • A single negative test does not mean you will remain negative at any time point after that test.
    • Even if you have a negative test, you should still self-isolate for 14 days.

The previous recommendation said:

If you do not have COVID-19 symptoms and have not been in close contact with someone known to have a COVID-19 infection:

  • You do not need a test.
    • A negative test does not mean you will not contract an infection at a later time.
  • If you decide to be tested, you should self-isolate at home until your test results are known, and then adhere to your health care provider’s advice. This does not apply to routine screening or surveillance testing at work, school, or similar situations.

“The return to a science-based approach to testing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is good news for public health and for our united fight against this pandemic,” Thomas File, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said in a statement.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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