A couple of months ago, President Donald Trump said he told federal officials to “slow the testing down, please.”
Now the Trump administration is taking a step that would, in effect, slow down testing.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its testing guidelines to no longer recommend people get tested even when they’ve come into close contact with someone who’s infected.
The previous guidelines stated, “Testing is recommended for all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, it is important that contacts of individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection be quickly identified and tested.”
The updated guidelines claim, “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.”
When VOX asked the CDC about the changes earlier this week, they referred the question to the Department of Health and Human Services — which struck the VOX author as unusual, since it suggested the CDC wasn’t overseeing the guidelines. An HHS official told me that the recommendations were “revised to reflect current evidence and the best public health interventions.”
HHS didn’t provide or explain that evidence when pressed further, or explain why someone who’s been exposed to a person with Covid-19 shouldn’t always try to get tested. Experts widely agree that more testing is crucial to stopping the coronavirus pandemic, with some already calling the guidelines change misguided and dangerous.
Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Sanjay Gupta at CNN that he was under anesthesia for a surgery when the White House’s coronavirus task force met to discuss the guideline changes. He added, “I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is.”
Testing is crucial to stopping outbreaks. But Trump has called for less of it.
It’s not clear if this came from Trump or another official under him. But we do know Trump has repeatedly complained about the US testing too much. He’s argued that “testing is a double-edged sword,” adding that “when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people — you’re going to find more cases.” The implication is that testing makes the US look bad, since it will have more confirmed coronavirus cases.
Experts counter that this is absurd: Whether testing confirms Covid-19 cases or not, those cases are there, leading to more infections, sickness, and deaths.
And it’s important to catch those cases. Paired with contact tracing, testing lets officials track the scale of an outbreak, isolate those who are sick, quarantine their contacts, and deploy community-wide efforts as necessary to contain the disease. It’s been successfully deployed in Germany, New Zealand, and South Korea, among other countries, to control Covid-19 outbreaks.
It remains difficult for many would-be travelers in the US to get Covid-19 tests before traveling.
While some people may have success walking into testing sites without an appointment, appointments in some areas may be limited, and because of testing supply and manpower shortages. Some testing sites may only test high-priority, at-risk people and turn away travelers.
Depending on the site, and whether a traveler has insurance, the price of a Covid-19 test will vary, but is usually between $100 and $200. Health insurance in the US will not cover testing for travel purposes, so this is an out-of-pocket expense that could amount to as much as 50% of an airfare to some Caribbean destinations.
Many travelers might prefer to take tests on arrival at a destination, especially if the cost and time involved is less, even if it means a couple of days of quarantine while waiting for a result.
[This article contains material from an article in VOX.com by German Lopez.]