Top Trump officials reportedly pressured the CDC to narrow its coronavirus testing guidelines to exclude asymptomatic people

  • The CDC narrowed its COVID-19 testing criteria earlier this week to exclude people who show no symptoms, even if they were exposed to the virus.
  • The instruction came from top officials in the Trump administration, according to a New York Times report.
  • Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN he was not part of the discussions and was undergoing surgery the day the White House coronavirus task force met to approve the change.
  • Democrats have lambasted the move as political interference from the White House and leaders have announced they will not be following the updated recommendations.
  • The change has also alarmed health experts who said evidence suggests people who are asymptomatic can still spread the disease. 
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Top Trump administration officials pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to narrow its COVID-19 testing recommendations to exclude asymptomatic people, according to a New York Times report on Wednesday.

The Times cited two federal health officials who said the new rule was imposed by top White House officials, with one saying the CDC didn't write the new guidelines.

Coronavirus testing czar Adm. Brett Giroir admitted members of the White House coronavirus task force had been involved in setting the new guidance, but stressed the involvement of the CDC's director, Dr. Robert Redfield. Giroir denied that the move was politically motivated.

"Let me tell you right up front that the new guidelines are a CDC action," Giroir said on Wednesday. "As always, guidelines received appropriate attention, consultation and input from task force experts — and I mean the medical and scientific experts — including C.D.C. director Redfield and myself."

The CDC's revised guidelines, released earlier this week, no longer advises people without symptoms to get tested, even if they have been recently exposed to the virus. 

"If you have been in close contact, within 6 feet, of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes but do not have symptoms, you do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or state or local public health officials recommend you take one," the updated criteria reads.

Before, any individual who had been exposed to the virus was recommended to seek a test, regardless of how they felt.

Giroir stressed the intention is on "appropriate" testing, not "less" testing and that "it cannot be interpreted that we are inhibiting local public health," according to CNN.

"This was discussed at the last task force meeting and approved, I think that was Thursday of last week," Giroir told CNN, explaining that he worked with task force members including top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, FDA chief Dr. Stephen Hahn and Dr. Deborah Birx. "We posted this on Monday morning."

But Fauci said he missed the task force meeting in which the change was approved because he was undergoing vocal cord surgery to remove a polyp, CNN reported.

"I was under general anesthesia in the operating room and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding the new testing recommendations," Fauci told CNN on Wednesday.

Democratic leaders around the country slammed the reversed guidelines and accused the agency of succumbing to political pressure from the White House.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly made misleading assertions that the US leads the world in confirmed case counts because of the country's high rates of testing and has previously suggested that the country is testing too much.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York announced on Wednesday that the state will not follow the new guidance, which he called "indefensible" and "exactly the opposite of what the CDC has been saying."

"I consider it political propaganda," Cuomo said. "Shame on the people at the CDC."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom echoed the same sentiment on Wednesday: "I don't agree with the CDC guidance period, full stop, and it's not the policy in the state of California."

Congressional lawmakers have also weighed in on the abrupt change, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who signaled calls for an investigation.

 

The CDC's modification also immediately stoked alarm and confusion among public health experts, who pointed out the importance of identifying infections early due to growing evidence showing that's when people are most contagious.

The country's top health agency itself estimated last month that 40% of virus transmission occurs before any symptoms are present in individuals. 

 

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