Several large U.S. states are not heeding new federal health officials’ calls to reduce COVID-19 testing of some exposed to the virus, joining a broad rebuke of the Trump administration by public health leaders.
Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey and New York all plan to continue to test asymptomatic people who have been exposed to COVID-19, despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggesting that such tests may not be needed.
“The current Texas guidance recommends testing for all close contacts of a confirmed case because it allows for early case identification among people who are at a higher risk of infection,” a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services in a statement. “There’s not a planned change at this point.”
California and New York made similar statements. The Florida Department of Health said asymptomatic testing was continuing while the new CDC recommendations were evaluated, and Texas also said it would evaluate.
The CDC said this week that people exposed to COVID-19 but not symptomatic may not need to be tested, shocking doctors and politicians and prompting accusations the guidance was politically motivated.
Even before the CDC guidance, coronavirus testing in the United States had dropped. The United States tested on average 675,000 people a day last week, down from a peak in late July of over 800,000 people a day.
Nationally, cases have fallen for five weeks in a row but infections are surging again in the U.S. Midwest with four states reporting record one-day increases in cases on Thursday as the U.S. death toll climbed above 180,000.
The CDC had previously recommended testing of all people who had close contact with someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state of New York would not be abiding by the new guidance and challenged the assertion that politics played no role in the change.
“This 180-degree reversal of COVID-19 testing guidelines is reckless, and not based on science and has the potential to do long-term damage to the (CDC’s) reputation,” Cuomo said in a joint statement, along with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut, who also said their states would not be following the CDC’s guidance.
Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said there was no political pressure from the administration. He said that testing asymptomatic patients too early could produce false negatives and contribute to the virus’s spread.
CNN and The New York Times reported on Wednesday that U.S. public health officials were ordered by high-level members of the Trump administration to push forward with the changes.
CDC Director Robert Redfield issued a statement on Thursday that “everyone who needs a COVID-19 test, can get a test,” but “everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test.”
Globally, many nations advocate early testing. The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday said that resources permitting, people exposed to the novel coronavirus should be tested even if they do not show immediate symptoms of infection.
European governments have used broad testing and isolation to control the virus. France, for instance, recommends that anyone who thinks they need a test should get one and in Germany, people with close contact of 15 minutes or more with a person with COVID-19 are advised to have a test.
Reporting by Carl O’Donnell; Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome, Matthias Blamont in Paris, Alistair Smout in London and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; editing by Peter Henderson and Lisa Shumaker