CDC reverses course, says people without symptoms should be tested

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NEW YORK — 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 a rash of 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.

Health officials were evasive about why they had made the change in August, and some speculated it was forced on the CDC by political appointees within the Trump administration. According to The New York Times, last month’s update was not written by scientists at the CDC and was posted to the agency’s website despite serious internal objections.

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 Associated Press contributed to this report.


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