CDC testing guidance change was approved by White House task force
The Trump administration’s coronavirus testing coordinator on Wednesday denied that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were pressured into narrowing its guidelines about who should be tested.
Adm. Brett Giroir told reporters the updated guidelines were a collaborative product and were approved by the entire White House task force, but they ultimately belong to the CDC and the agency’s director, Robert Redfield.
“Let me tell you right up front that the new guidelines are a CDC action,” Giroir said. “As always, guidelines received appropriate attention consultation and input from [White House coronavirus] task force experts, and I mean the medical and scientific experts including CDC Director Redfield.”
Giroir added there was high level input from multiple people, including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as well as White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx and Scott Atlas.
Atlas is a recent addition to the task force. A physician and fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution, he believes concern over COID-19 spikes is “fearmongering,” and has publicly called for fewer COVID-19 tests.
According to multiple reports, top political officials forced the CDC to make the change. The New York Times reported that the CDC did not write the guidance, but it was forced on the agency.
President Trump has long said he thinks the U.S. conducts too many tests, and the high numbers of positive COVID-19 cases those tests discover make him look bad.
Giroir denied there was any political influence on the process.
“There was no weight on the scale by the president, or the vice president, or [HHS] Secretary [Alex] Azar,” Giroir said. “This was a product produced by the scientific and medical people, that was discussed extensively at the task force. Everyone approved it. I don’t know how to make it any simpler than that.”
Under the new testing guidance, which was quietly updated Monday, asymptomatic people do not need to be tested for coronavirus, even if they have been in close contact with an infected person.
The agency made the move by updating its website but did not make any public announcement or explain the reasoning behind the major revision.
The previous guidelines had urged tests for anyone who had been exposed, whether they had developed symptoms of not.
The move drew widespread criticism and confusion from public health experts, who said that testing to identify asymptomatic people with the virus is important and that the change could undermine contact tracing, a core strategy for slowing the spread of the virus.
During the call, Giroir said the move was “meant to be based on the best evidence to provide people guidance about who should be tested.”
He said the focus was to do more “appropriate” testing, not “less” testing.
“It cannot be interpreted that we are inhibiting local public health,” Giroir said. “We don’t expect the number of tests to go down.”
However, Giroir said he expects tests will be “strategically done” for people going back to work and school, not “done for the sake of being tested.”