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CDC says people exposed to COVID-19 who show no symptoms may not need to be tested

Experts are concerned about the shift in policy

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​The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its COVID-19 testing guidelines to state that people without symptoms of the virus don’t need to be tested if they were in contact with someone known to have the virus. 

Under its previous guidelines, the agency recommended that “all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection” be tested. The CDC said prompt testing would help quickly identify the virus in the event that the exposed individual was asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. 

On Monday, the CDC changed its website to reflect a different recommendation for people 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 agency’s website now says. 

"Not everyone needs to be tested," the new guidelines state. "If you do get tested, you should self-quarantine/isolate at home pending test results and follow the advice of your health care provider or a public health professional."

Experts say policy change ‘will kill’

Infectious disease experts have expression confusion and concern over the policy change, which wasn’t explained by the CDC. Alison Galvani, director for the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis at Yale School of Medicine, said testing people without symptoms is crucial. 

“Our work on the ‘silent’ spread underscored the importance of testing people who have been exposed to COVID-19 regardless of symptoms,” Galvani tweeted. “This change in policy will kill.”

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, told CNN that the new guidelines threaten to derail contact tracing efforts. 

"I'm concerned that these recommendations suggest someone who has had substantial exposure to a person with Covid-19 now doesn't need to get tested," Wen said. "This is key to contact tracing, especially given that up to 50% of all transmission is due to people who do not have symptoms. One wonders why these guidelines were changed -- is it to justify continued deficit of testing?"

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