Covid-19 testing chief defends new US CDC guidelines after blowback

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week that people exposed to Covid-19 but not symptomatic may not need to be tested, shocking doctors and politicians and prompting accusations the guidance was politically motivated.

WASHINGTON • The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) shift in guidance on Covid-19 testing away from asymptomatic individuals this week alarmed many public health experts, who say it is a wrong turn that could restrict test numbers.

Mr Brett Giroir, a top Trump administration official overseeing coronavirus testing, fired back against the criticism during a Wednesday briefing, telling reporters the change was not influenced by the White House and is intended to clarify to the public the limitations of such screenings, not to reduce how many tests are conducted. The new recommendations say testing may not be needed for asymptomatic close contacts and those who attended large, risky gatherings but lack symptoms.

Mr Giroir said that in areas with high virus rates, many people without symptoms will be tested at "surge screening sites", which he contrasted with someone in a "place where it's 1 per cent positive saying I want to get tested today, tomorrow and the next day".

He responded to the blowback: "I'm really not sure how people could interpret that if they actually read them because what we've tried to do is put more responsibility on public health officials."

CNN reported on Wednesday that the CDC guidance change was due to pressure from Trump administration officials, citing an unidentified official.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called the move "political propaganda" and an effort by President Donald Trump to bring down the number of cases with less testing.

But Mr Giroir said that the guidelines had been a joint effort, with the involvement of top health officials including Dr Anthony Fauci, who has been one of the most prominent administration voices on the virus. Mr Giroir said the final draft was circulated yesterday at a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting. Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Niaid), was in surgery that day though and did not attend the meeting, Niaid said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2020, with the headline 'Covid-19 testing chief defends new US CDC guidelines after blowback'. Print Edition | Subscribe