State and local officials said on Wednesday their recommendations for who should get tested for COVID-19 have not changed in light of new federal guidance on testing announced earlier this week.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention quietly updated its website on Monday to state that testing is no longer necessary for individuals who don’t feel sick but who have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. The change does not match previous recommendations by scientists of what is needed to control the pandemic.
But state and county health departments are standing by their original advice on testing. Anyone with symptoms, and anyone who is a close contact of a positive case, should get a test.
“We have no plans right now to change our testing strategy,” Skagit County Public Health Office Howard Leibrand said Wednesday.
He said the county’s contact tracing has revealed that infected people who are asymptomatic, or show no symptoms, are responsible for a large amount of spread. Failure to test those people would mean they might never realize they are spreading the disease. The CDC has estimated that up to 40% of COVID-19 cases show no symptoms.
“It’s obvious they’re spreading it around, and it’s most of the spread,” Leibrand said. “It’s not people who are ill. Once they get sick, they have enough feeling of responsibility and common sense to isolate and figure out what’s going on.”
He said asymptomatic spread is occurring at social gatherings such as birthday parties, and just a few individuals are infecting a large number of people. Recently, 31 cases were traced back to a single positive case in Skagit County, he said.
The decision to alter the CDC’s testing guidance was the result of meetings of the White House coronavirus task force, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.
However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert and perhaps the best-known task force member, said he wasn’t part of the discussion that led to the change.
Fauci told CNN he was undergoing surgery when the new guidance was discussed last week, adding he was “worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact it is.”
The American Medical Association called the change “a recipe for community spread.” The Association of American Medical Colleges called it “a step backward in fighting the pandemic.”
Skagit County Commissioner Ron Wesen said the county will follow Leibrand’s guidance on testing. Wesen added that the county has strived to make its drive-thru testing site “low barrier” so those who have been exposed to COVID-19 but show no symptoms could get a test.
The state Department of Health also affirmed Wednesday the importance of testing both those with symptoms and those without symptoms who were exposed to COVID-19. The agency also stated that timing is important for testing.
“Testing too soon after an exposure may give you a negative result, even if you’ve been infected,” the Department of Health wrote in a Wednesday news release. “If exposed and you develop symptoms, testing that day or the next is recommended. If exposed and you don’t develop symptoms, waiting 5-6 days after exposure to get a test is recommended.”
Even if a test is negative, people should quarantine for 14 days, the release states.
— Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.