Coronavirus: CDC updates guidance for COVID-19 testing

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated coronavirus testing guidelines Friday, reversing course on whether people should be tested after coming into contact with people who have COVID-19.

The updated guidelines posted on the CDC website emphasize that those who have spent at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of people who have tested positive for the viral infection should also get tested themselves, even if they don’t feel sick. While awaiting test results, the CDC recommends people self-quarantine or isolate at home, if possible.

Officials called the changes a “clarification” prompted by “the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission.” The update comes weeks after the CDC changed its guidelines to say that testing is unnecessary for asymptomatic patients, even if they’ve been in close contact with people diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Everyone who needs a COVID-19 test, can get a test,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement released after the change was announced last month. “Everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test.”

The decision to narrow testing recommendations to only people who appeared to have symptoms of COVID-19 sparked outrage from the scientific and medical community. Dr. Silvia Chiang, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Brown University, told The Associated Press the guidance was “not consistent with the basic principles of controlling an epidemic.” She praised the update to guidelines announced Friday.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the guidelines released last month had been posted online despite objections from CDC scientists. Citing unidentified sources, the newspaper reported that the revision was made by the Department of Health and Human Services and posted online while public health experts were pushing for more, not less, testing.

Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at HHS, denied that the agency made changes to CDC guidelines without its input during an interview Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“This was a CDC document and we will continue to clarify because I want people to know, if you are asymptomatic you can still spread the virus -- that’s why masks are so important -- and we want to encourage asymptomatic people to be tested,” he said.

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