The CDC changed its guidance on the coronavirus yet again this week, updating its website recommendations quietly to say that people without symptoms of the virus do not need to be tested even if they have been exposed to it.
The updated guidance reads: “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.”
Some experts are taking issue with the new recommendation, particularly as it relates to contact tracing the virus’s spread. With how the media has trumpeted “asymptomatic spread” of the virus, of course, people are now very confused.
HHS defends new guidance
Department of Health and Human Service’s (HHS) assistant secretary for health Brett Giroir defended the new guidance as reporters asked questions about its wisdom.
“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,” Giroir said.
The guideline says it is based on “current evidence,” but doesn’t say what the evidence is.
In June, the World Health Organization said that asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus is rare, but then walked those comments back and said they don’t yet know how common asymptomatic spread is.
Coronavirus cases falling, people less concerned
Newly reported cases of the coronavirus have fallen more than one-third since June 24, when the 7-day rolling average was over 68,000. The current 7-day rolling average is 42,705.
Deaths attributed to the virus are also falling, down to a 7-day average of 965 from 1,165 on August 3. Deaths peaked at a 7-day average of 2265 on April 21, and did not come close to reaching those levels even though new case counts through most of July were more than twice the previous April peak of 32,471.
Looking at the numbers shows that the virus is becoming less deadly, possibly because of theraputics and new treatments. Another trend is that younger people represent a larger portion of the new cases, and they are less likely to be severely infected or die from the virus.
I think it makes perfect sense not to test people who are asymptomatic unless they are likely to infect someone in a vulnerable population.
Besides the 30% false positive rate and other factors that distort case counts on a daily basis, asymptomatic cases should not be a priority over testing vulnerable populations and first responders.