The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its coronavirus testing guidelines to say that individuals who do not present with symptoms should still be tested for COVID-19 “due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission.”
The revised guidelines represent a capstone of sorts to a tumultuous few weeks for the agency, which has come under intense pressure from the White House and its allies to offer rosier prognoses on the battle against the pandemic. In late August, the CDC put out revised testing guidelines that said that individuals who were not exhibiting COVID-related symptoms “do not necessarily need a test.” That update stirred tensions among scientists working in the agency and elsewhere in the administration’s health departments who said the testing guidelines could set a dangerous precedent and would make it that much more difficult to identify infections and stop community spread.
Days after the August 24 guidelines were issued, the CDC had revised the language to note that testing was recommended “for all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
The New York Times reported Thursday that top officials at the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House coronavirus task force had finalized the looser testing guidelines and “dropped” them onto the CDC’s website. Adm. Brett Giroir told the paper that the language was drafted by the CDC before “coordinated editing and input from the scientific and medical members” of the White House coronavirus task force.
The timing of Friday’s revision also suggests that the agency is trying to further distance itself from political interference from White House officials. Just days prior, a top communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo, resigned after he had publicly warned that he believed government officials were plotting to physically harm him. Caputo, a close Trump ally, had previously taken a firm grip of the department’s public relations efforts, including weekly scientific reports put together by the CDC.
This week, CDC Director Robert Redfield also publicly clashed with President Donald Trump himself when he testified before Congress that he did not believe that a coronavirus vaccine would be widely available until well into 2021. Trump later claimed that Redfield had misheard the question. The CDC director put out a statement after the fact that stressed the agency’s desire to produce a timely vaccine but didn’t actually concede Trump’s more optimistic timeline.
Shortly after that, it was reported that the agency retracted that pseudo-retraction.