Doctors, health experts ‘floored’ by CDC testing guidance change

CDC changed guidelines for who should be tested; people without symptoms don't need to be tested
Updated: Aug. 26, 2020 at 9:10 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly updated the agency’s guidance for who should be tested for coronavirus.

In short, the new guidance says unless a person has symptoms of COVID-19, they don’t necessarily need to be tested for the virus—even if they have had direct exposure to the virus.

The changes reportedly came from the top of the agency, and are worrying to public health experts and infectious disease physicians from Washington, D.C. to Wilmington.

Dr. Paul Kamitsuka, an epidemiologist with New Hanover Regional Medical Center and Wilmington Health, said he and his colleagues were taken aback by the developments.

“I, like so many other physicians and epidemiologists...we were floored to see this recommendation, because it really goes against everything that we know to be true,” he said.

Kamitsuka said because COVID-19 is known to have asymptomatic spread, backing off testing is not a strategy he would recommend.

“If you under-test, then you’re going to miss cases, miss opportunities to be able to dampen this pandemic,” he said. “Testing is vital, particularly since we can’t rely on symptoms to tell us who’s contagious or not.”

The CDC’s new guidance does offer exceptions for those who are part of “vulnerable populations” or if state or local health officials believe they should be tested.

In North Carolina, the protocols will remain the same—Governor Roy Cooper and Department of Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said they will not be changing the state’s guidelines for coronavirus testing.

As far as personal decisions about testing for those who have been exposed, Kamitsuka said, the most important thing is the timing.

“People can develop illness for up to 14 days after the contact,” he said, “but if you do test negative, somewhere between day five to seven, you’re going to be largely reassured that you did not contract the virus.”

The best way to avoid having that contact in the first place remains the same, he said: Stay at least six feet apart from others and wear a mask.

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