Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Tony Fauci was knocked out and under the knife as the Trump administration scaled back testing recommendations last week.
CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta read out a statement from Fauci on Wednesday afternoon in which the longtime infectious disease doctor said that he was “under general anesthesia in the operating room last Thursday” and “was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding these new testing recommendations.”
Dr. Fauci gives CNN's Sanjay Gupta a statement on new CDC testing recs. pic.twitter.com/OSi3xgj3rW
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) August 26, 2020
The new testing guidelines reversed the CDC’s position to recommend that people exposed to COVID-19, but who are asymptomatic, not be tested. The change reportedly came from top Trump administration officials, though it is not clear who.
Adm. Brett Giroir, HHS assistant secretary for health, pushed back on those reports earlier on Wednesday, and specifically said that Dr. Fauci was involved in signing off on the change.
“They originated in the CDC as a CDC product,” Giroir said. “I worked on them. Dr. Fauci worked on them. And Dr. Birx worked on them, Dr. Hahn worked on them. Dr. Atlas provided input.”
But in the statement, Fauci pushed back on the content of the recommendations.
“I’m concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations,” Dr. Gupta read from Fauci’s statement on CNN. “I’m worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is.”
Giroir added the guidelines were discussed and approved “at the last [coronavirus] task force meeting, I think that was Thursday of last week, that was the last time we discussed it,” Giroir said.
Fauci was in surgery on Thursday to remove a polyp from his vocal cords. It was reportedly an outpatient operation.
Giroir spent much of the call with reporters on Wednesday downplaying the importance of asymptomatic testing. COVID-19 has been found to transmit even when an infected person shows no symptoms.
“A negative test on day two [after exposure] doesn’t mean you’re negative,” Giroir said. “What is the value of that? It doesn’t mean on day four you can go out and visit grandma or on day six go without a mask.”
Giroir went on to say that the Trump administration would use “surge testing sites to look for asymptomatic individuals” once outbreaks were already detected.
In response to criticism of the change from public health experts, who have said that asymptomatic testing is needed to predict outbreaks before they reach crisis levels, Giroir responded by saying that he advocated for “more asymptomatic testing in areas where its needed, and less in areas where its not needed.”