The CDC Just Made This "Dangerous" Change to Its COVID Guidelines

Doctors are saying the latest change to the CDC's guidelines "seems backward."

For months, health officials have urged as many people as possible to get tested for COVID-19, especially if they believe they were potentially exposed to someone with the virus. In fact, top advisors, including Anthony Fauci, MD, have said contact tracing and testing close contacts of positive cases is one of the most important ways to stop this pandemic from dragging on. But a sudden change to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) COVID guidelines is now shifting the agency's tone when it comes to coronavirus testing. The New York Times points out that the CDC quietly changed its testing guidelines to say that those without symptoms should not get tested—a move that doctors are calling "dangerous" given how asymptomatic patients are still likely to spread the virus.

The change, which was made on August 24, explains that even those who were exposed to coronavirus should not seek testing if they do not feel ill. The testing guidelines now read: "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."

Previously, the CDC's testing guidelines read that there were multiple "populations for which SARS-CoV-2 testing with viral tests (i.e., nucleic acid or antigen tests) is appropriate," including "asymptomatic individuals with recent known or suspected exposure to SARS-CoV-2 to control transmission" and "asymptomatic individuals without known or suspected exposure to SARS-CoV-2 for early identification in special settings."

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Experts responded by saying that this change flies in the face of previous precautionary testing to identify pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic patients, who could then self isolate before unknowingly spreading the virus to others.

"This is potentially dangerous," Krutika Kuppalli, MD, an infectious disease physician in Palo Alto, California, told The Times, highlighting the potential of missing possible carriers of the virus before they have the chance to infect others. "I feel like this is going to make things worse."

The change comes just weeks after the National Institutes of Health announced recipients of a grant program to help develop and scale up a rapid testing program in the U.S., with the specific goal of detecting asymptomatic carriers. At the time, the agency said that "accurate, fast, easy-to-use, and widely accessible testing is required before the nation can safely return to normal life."


Many medical professionals find the timing of the CDC's change to be troubling. "Wow, that is a walk-back," Susan Butler-Wu, MD, a clinical microbiologist at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, told The Times. "We're in the middle of a pandemic, and that's a really big change. It seems backward to just ignore pre-symptomatic patients."

Despite the shift, the CDC's guidelines still emphasize that "it is important to realize that you can be infected and spread the virus but feel well and have no symptoms." The agency also recommends that health care workers, first responders, "critical infrastructure workers," nursing home workers, and nursing home patients should still continue to seek out testing even without if they don't feel sick. And if you think you have COVID, check the most common signs here: These Are the 51 Most Common COVID Symptoms You Could Have.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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