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GOP lawmaker calls asymptomatic testing crucial after CDC revises guidance

GOP lawmaker calls asymptomatic testing crucial after CDC revises guidance
© Greg Nash

Rep. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessRace heats up for top GOP post on powerful Energy and Commerce Committee Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it MORE (R-Texas) said Wednesday that asymptomatic testing for COVID-19 would be “paramount” to addressing the pandemic in the coming months.

The remarks by Burgess, the top Republican and the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, contrast with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which said asymptomatic people do not need to be tested for COVID-19, even if they have been in close contact with an infected person.

Burgess, who is a medical doctor, said a strategy of “test the well, not the sick” would be vital to returning to normal life, particularly to allow schools and universities to reopen.

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“Testing is going to be going to be the bulwark until a vaccine is around and available and a lot of people have stepped up to take it,” he said at The Hill’s “COVID-19 & The Way Forward” event, on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that top Trump administration officials had pressured the CDC to make the change, though officials at the Department of Health and Human Services denied later in the day that politics played a role.

The U.S. is conducting roughly 600,000 to 700,000 tests per day, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Some experts have said the country needs to develop the ability to conduct 20 million tests daily in order to reopen fully. Available testing centers have been plagued by long lines in hard-hit regions and delays in results.

Burgess told The Hill's Steve Clemons that research labs and academic labs represent untapped testing capacity.

While only certified hospitals and commercial labs can diagnose the disease, academic labs can conduct broad screening of asymptomatic populations.

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“As long as you’re not providing a specific diagnosis to a specific individual, as long as you’re providing surveillance for a rather broad, but low-risk population, this is the type of testing that I would look to our academic institutions to help us with,” Burgess said at the event, which was sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The CDC’s shift Monday — which was posted on its website without a public announcement or explanation — drew widespread condemnation and confusion among public health officials, who urged more testing, not less.

The agency’s guidance now states that asymptomatic individuals who have been in close contact with an infected patient “do not necessarily need a test” unless they are in a high-risk group for the disease or are told to take one by a health provider. Until this week, the agency emphasized the importance of testing everyone who came into contact with infected individuals.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked by platform's pre-election blackout Mnuchin says he learned of Pelosi's letter to him about stimulus talks 'in the press' Harris to travel to Texas Friday after polls show tie between Trump, Biden MORE has indicated that the U.S. should conduct fewer tests because more testing reveals more cases, but the administration’s testing czar, Admiral Brett M. Giroir, said Wednesday that while the shift was approved by the entire White House coronavirus task force, it was crafted by the CDC and the agency’s director, Robert Redfield.

“There was no weight on the scale by the president, or the vice president, or [HHS] Secretary [Alex] Azar,” Giroir told reporters on a press call. “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.”

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Burgess on Wednesday urged preparation and planning for a second wave of the virus this fall, noting that the peak in many states over the summer was merely a “continuation of the first wave.”

He said Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee have been focused on preparing for the possibility of a second wave, especially in concert with the seasonal flu.

Burgess added he's optimistic that, between the end of October and Jan. 1, scientists working on the government’s vaccine development initiative, Operation Warp Speed, will receive Food and Drug Administration approval on two to three vaccine candidates.