Recommendation Whiplash: CDC Back in Favor of Proactive Testing

Masked students walk through the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., on Thursday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Shelving the conflicting guidance it released last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Friday that individuals who have come into contact with someone who has Covid-19 should get tested. 

The new guidance is a complete reversal from what the CDC said in August, that it was unnecessary to test people without symptoms of Covid-19 even if they interacted with someone who was infected. 

After the last announcement prompted international consternation, the New York Times reported this week on internal CDC documents that the basis for the revisions had been politically rather than scientific. The records indicated that the August CDC guidance was by officials at the Department of Health and Human Services instead of agency scientists. The recommendation was also slipped into the CDC website without the final consideration of Director Robert Redfield, the Times reported.

Admiral Brett Giroir said Thursday that an “original draft” came from the CDC, but that he “coordinated the editing and input from the scientific and medical members of the [White House coronavirus] task force.”

In the new testing guidance Friday meanwhile, the CDC now states that individuals who have been within six feet of a person with a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection for at least 15 minutes should get tested. Even if a person was the picture of health following a brief interaction with the infected, the agency recommends testing due to the potential for asymptomatic spread.

The guidance also calles for those who have encountered the sick should self-quarantine at home for 14 days.

“A single negative test does not mean you will remain negative at any time point after that test,” the guidance continues. “Even if you have a negative test, you should still self-isolate for 14 days.”

President Donald Trump began openly calling since at least June for a slowdown in Covid-19 testing, asserting the country’s infection rate only appears high because of testing.

“So I said to my people, ‘slow the testing down please,’” Trump said on June 20 at rally where roughly 6,000 people gathered inside the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Among those attendees who tested positive for the virus after the rally were two secret service agents, two Trump campaign staffers, a journalist and Herman Cain, the onetime presidential candidate, CEO of the National Restaurant Association and Trump stalwart. Cain, a cancer survivor, was seen not wearing a mask at the event. He died on July 30.  

CDC Director Redfield had said he expected to issue revised guidelines when he testified before the Senate on Wednesday. During the same hearing he underlined the importance of largescale mask wearing. He also said Americans could expect to see a vaccine for Covid-19 distributed by mid-2021. 

Hours later, however, Trump undercut Redfield at a White House press conference, saying the director was “confused” and that a vaccine could be ready for distribution as soon as October, just three weeks away.

Trump also contradicted Redfield’s assertion that, for now, a mask is better than a vaccine.

Appeared to respond in a tweet that evening, Redfield wrote: “I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a #COVID19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life. The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds.”

The World Health Organization, most vaccine and public health experts, and pharmaceutical companies tasked with creating the vaccine have disagreed with Trump’s fast-track assessment.

Pfizer CEO Albert Boula said this week the company may have results from its late-stage vaccine trials as early as October, but even in the best-case scenario, no matter who produces it first, the initial doses will be limited supply. 

Distribution is expected to unfold in four phases, with the first doses going to health care workers, the elderly and infirm, and people with underlying conditions. Essential workers are expected next followed by children and young adults. According to CDC estimates, there are roughly 20 million health care workers in the U.S. alone.

Also complicating matters for distribution is that the vaccine will require two doses. This means manufacturers will be tasked with acquiring twice the amount of test kits and supplies and arranging for vaccines in intervals.

Accusing Democrats of waging a “war to try and discredit the vaccine,” President Trump said during a press conference on Friday that the U.S. “essentially” has the vaccine.

“We’ll be announcing it very soon. Distribution will begin with 24 hours after notice. Massive amounts will be delivered through our great military,” Trump said.

Trump vowed to have at least 100 million doses available before the end of the year.

“Likely much more than that,” he said.

Scott Atlas, a White House adviser and former chief of neuroradiology at the Stanford University Medical Center, told reporters gathered Friday that “hundreds of millions of doses” will be delivered in the first quarter of 2021. 

“By April, every single American who wants a vaccination can get one,” Atlas said.

Trump made the same vow of tests for Covid-19 in March as the pandemic first gripped the U.S. A lack of testing supplies and a slow federal response paralyzed testing coast to coast however and it was not until June that the U.S. finally began making headway, testing up to 15 million people in a single month, a threefold increase that took over eight weeks to achieve.

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