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US public health agency drops contentious COVID-19 testing advice

  • September 18, 2020

The United States’s top public health agency has dropped controversial directives around testing for the novel coronavirus, a move that was welcomed as “good news” in the country’s fight against the global pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced last month anyone in close contact with a person infected with the novel coronavirus did not need to get tested if they did not feel sick, prompting widespread criticism from medical and public health experts.

On Friday, the CDC said on its website that “due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission” of the virus, asymptomatic people should be tested.

That includes anyone who has been in close contact with a person who tested positive, the agency said.

It also said anyone who has been within six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes should get tested for the virus.

The reversal was lauded by the president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Thomas File, who on Friday said “the return to a science-based approach to testing guidance from the [CDC] is good news for public health and for our united fight against this pandemic”.

“We urge officials to support the work of controlling this pandemic by following medical guidance of experts in the field,” File said in a statement.

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported US President Donald Trump’s administration posted the contentious testing guidelines to the CDC website against the objections of its scientists.

“That policy does not reflect what many people at the CDC feel should be the policy,” a US official told the US newspaper.

The US has been hard hit by COVID-19, reporting about 6.7 million cases and about 193,000 deaths since the pandemic began, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Public health experts have noted testing the contacts of infected people is a core element of efforts to keep outbreaks in check, and a large percentage of those infected with the coronavirus exhibit no COVID-19 symptoms.

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