The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) addressed the media Wednesday afternoon amid the backlash regarding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) changes to coronavirus guidelines, which suggest that asymptomatic people who come in contact with infected COVID-19 individuals do not have to get tested for the virus if no symptoms are present.
Some individuals are skeptical that the new guidelines are politically driven, to keep the number of reported COVID-19 cases down.
“There is no direction from President Trump. This is evidence-based driven," said Admiral Brett M. Giroir, M.D., who is assistant secretary for health at the HHS, during the livestreamed briefing.
“Let me tell you right up front that the new guidelines are a CDC action,” he added. Giroir also said that President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary Alex Azar did not weigh in on the recommendations.
“As always, guidelines received appropriate attention, consultation and input from task force experts — and I mean the medical and scientific experts — including CDC Director Redfield and myself,” Giroir said.
The updated recommendations were posted on the CDC website Monday, Fox News reported earlier. The new guidelines state that “if you have been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes but do not have symptoms: You do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or State or local public health officials recommend you take one," per the CDC website.
In a statement sent to Fox News, Dr. Giroir said, “The updated guidance places an emphasis on testing individuals with symptomatic illness, those with a significant exposure or for vulnerable populations, including residents and staff in nursing homes or long term care facilities, critical infrastructure workers, healthcare workers and first responders, and those individuals (who may be asymptomatic) when prioritized by public health officials. Working with our health care professionals, we can continue to implement this guidance and adapt it to the local situation as appropriate.”
Giroir also said in the meeting that the new recommendations will enable “winning against false sense of security," explaining that some individuals may take a COVID-19 test too soon after exposure, which could result in a false negative, and in turn, run the risk of that person exposing others to coronavirus. The new guidelines look to prevent this, and also get more appropriate testing.
Giroir said none of this is an action to deter testing, and that he actually expects an uptick in testing as schools and businesses begin to reopen.
Most infectious disease specialists Fox News spoke with said they are highly concerned about the CDC's new recommendations. Several of the epidemiologists said that asymptomatic people infected by the novel coronavirus are known to be carriers of COVID-19.
“The updated recommendations by the CDC stating that asymptomatic people may not need to be tested even if they have been in close contact with someone known to have the virus are very troubling as this is the exact patient population that should be tested.” Dr Ravina Kullar, PharmD, an infectious disease specialist in California, told Fox News. “It is important to get tested if you've been exposed to someone, even if asymptomatic, for contact tracing. I am not sure if these recommendations were based on the labs being overwhelmed or a desire to make the case numbers look better; regardless, I am stunned by these recommendations.”
Kullar told Fox News that “CDC recommendations should be based on science and these recommendations contraindicate the science behind what we know about this virus.”
Dr. Fred Davis, associate chair of emergency medicine at Northwell /Long Island Jewish in New York, one of the hardest-hit regions during the outstart of the coronavirus pandemic, told Fox News that testing asymptomatic individuals, if they came into contact with someone who had COVID-19, is important for contact tracing.
“We know that someone can be infected and transmitting the virus and it can take 3-5 days after initial infection before they develop symptoms. It is suspected that upwards of 50 percent of transmissions occur during this time," he said. “Testing those that have possibly been exposed to someone with COVID is an important part of contact tracing to help identify and reduce spread. When we have the resources to test, we should be testing those with known exposure to help identify and recommend proper quarantine.”