Democrats press CDC director over coronavirus testing guidelines


House Democrats are taking Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield to task over his agency’s coronavirus testing guidelines amid backlash over recent changes.

Eighty-six lawmakers wrote in a Thursday letter that they have “grave concerns” over revised guidance issued this week limiting tests to those who show symptoms, a policy that swiftly garnered backlash from Democrats and health experts who underscored the role asymptomatic people play in spreading the virus.

“We write today with grave concerns about new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that suggest not all those exposed to COVID-19 need to be tested,” the lawmakers wrote. “Widespread testing is crucial to our public health and safety considering the sustained high rate of spread in the country, the prevalence of asymptomatic cases and our reliance on testing to track the status of the virus in our communities.”

Redfield ultimately clarified the guidance Thursday, saying people who have come into contact with confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients could be tested themselves regardless of whether they exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus. 

“Testing is meant to drive actions and achieve specific public health objectives. Everyone who needs a COVID-19 test, can get a test. 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 in a statement. 

The Democrats pressed Redfield to provide answers to a number of questions, including if any White House officials pushed the CDC to implement the revised guidance earlier this week or if any CDC official had voiced concerns over any political motivations surrounding the Monday guidance. They also asked for documents pertaining to any analysis that was conducted regarding the guidance and if the CDC consulted with states, cities, and localities over the recommendations. 

“This new guidance is counterproductive to these efforts. Until a sufficient explanation and the answers to our questions are provided that ensures to the public that this new guidance improves the effort to quickly identify the spread of the virus, testing should be expanded, not limited. As such, this recent guidance should be immediately halted. We await your timely response,” the lawmakers wrote in reference to the guidance issued earlier this week.

Testing is considered a crucial tool to curb the spread of the coronavirus, particularly considering that asymptomatic people can spread it without even knowing they have it themselves.

Redfield said the guidelines issued earlier this week were drafted in coordination with the White House coronavirus task force. 

The guidance comes as the number of coronavirus tests across the United States has fallen in recent weeks. Fewer than 700,000 daily tests were conducted over the last four days, compared with nearly a million new tests a month ago.

Tags CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus COVID-19 testing Robert Redfield U.S. federal government response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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