The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed controversial guidance on coronavirus testing Friday, now recommending that people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should get tested, even if they’re not symptomatic.
If you have been in close contact with an infected person and do not have symptoms, “you need a test,” the CDC said in an update to its website Friday.
“Due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, this guidance further reinforces the need to test asymptomatic persons, including close contacts of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the CDC says.
The recommendation departs from guidance the agency issued at the end of August, which said that someone who was in close contact (within 6 feet) of an infected person for at least 15 minutes but doesn’t have symptoms does not “necessarily need a test.”
Infectious disease experts were confused and troubled by the change, as people who are not showing symptoms can still have and spread COVID-19.
“Our work on the ‘silent’ spread underscored the importance of testing people who have been exposed to COVID-19 regardless of symptoms,” Alison Galvani, director for the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis at Yale School of Medicine, said on Twitter at the time. “This change in policy will kill.”
The CDC estimates that 40% of infections are asymptomatic and 50% of transmissions occur before symptoms appear. Experts worry that failing to test asymptomatic carriers could not only result in more infections but also hinder contact tracing efforts.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the controversial guidance was not written by CDC scientists and was posted to the agency’s website “despite their serious objections,” according to internal documents and several people familiar with the matter.
Dr. Thomas File Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, cheered the update Friday.
“The return to a science-based approach to testing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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,” he said in a statement.
Galvani said the move Friday was “a step in the right direction.”
“In order to control the pandemic, it is imperative that contact tracing is conducted and that exposed individuals be tested irrespective of symptoms. The goal should be that this process is implemented fast enough that cases are identified before they become symptomatic,” she said. “People are highly infectious during the presymptomatic phase and catching people during that phase is key to interrupting transmission.”
Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez and Karen Weintraub