The Trump administration walked back, slightly, from recommendations designed to limit access to COVID-19 testing on Thursday, after the administration’s top public health official said that he was under anesthesia when the changes were approved.
Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Robert Redfield issued a statement to reporters on Thursday saying that “testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable Covid-19 patients.”
That’s a reversal from the guidance that the administration released on Monday, in which it recommended that people who had been in close contact with someone positive for COVID-19 not be tested if they were asymptomatic.
The resulting controversy saw numerous public health experts and organizations criticize the change and call for its reversal, drawing attention to established science showing that people can transmit the virus asymptomatically.
They included Dr. Tony Fauci, who said on Wednesday that he was under anesthesia when the changes were approved and that he was concerned it would “give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is.”
Redfield’s statement partly walks back the change, but leaves the question of whether those who have been exposed to people who have tested positive for the virus should be tested. The CDC director said only that “testing may be considered.”
“Everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test; the key is to engage the needed public health community in the decision with the appropriate follow-up action,” Redfield said.
He also added that the Trump administration wished to put more of a focus on “testing individuals with symptomatic illness, individuals with a significant exposure,” and certain vulnerable populations.
HHS spokesman Michael Caputo is reportedly insisting that the statement “amplifies the policy. It in no way changes the policy.”
Public health experts say that clear and direct communication is crucial for resolving a pandemic. But it’s only the latest example of blundering confusion around a change in guidance.
HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir told reporters on Wednesday that “conceptually, we don’t believe the number of tests should go down” but that the administration wanted to test those without symptoms to areas already experiencing a serious outbreak.
That call came amid reports that the guidance change was pushed on the CDC from the “top down.” Giroir pushed back on that, saying that Dr. Fauci and others signed off on the recommendations.
Fauci was on an operating room table, in surgery when the changes were approved. He released a statement on Wednesday criticizing the shift.