Health experts are expressing alarm over the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s revision of its coronavirus testing guidelines.
The CDC announced Monday that people who have been in close contact with someone who has been infected by COVID-19 “do not necessarily need a test” if they are not exhibiting symptoms of the virus. The agency had previously recommended that anyone who has come into close contact — defined as being within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes — should be tested for the virus.
No explanation has been given for the sudden change. Experts are worried the new recommendation could lead to a drop off in testing,
Dr. Leena Wen, an emergency physician and a professor of public health at George Washington University, said contract tracing is necessary, since up to 50% of all COVID-19 transmissions are due to people who do not exhibit symptoms of the disease.
The CDC continues to recommend that “vulnerable” people get tested if they come into close contact with someone carrying the virus. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday people should consult with their doctor or with public health officials to decide if they need to be tested.
One day after U.S. President Donald Trump praised it as “a truly historic announcement,” the head of Food and Drug Administration apologized for apparently overstating the benefits of using convalescent blood plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19.
President Trump on Sunday announced the federal government had issued an emergency authorization for the use of convalescent blood plasma, which is rich in antibodies, and using it to treat people currently suffering from the virus.
During the public announcement, Dr. Stephen Hahn, the FDA commissioner, reaffirmed claims made by Trump and Health and Human Services Alex Azar of a 35% decrease in mortality among those younger than 80 who were not on a respirator, a month after receiving the treatment early in the course of their disease.
A “35% improvement in survival is a pretty substantial clinical benefit,” he added. “We’ve seen a great deal of demand for this from doctors around the country.”
But critics say the claim made by the administration was a gross exaggeration of preliminary findings of a study conducted by the prestigious Mayo Clinic, noting that the study lacked a comparison group of untreated COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Hahn conceded this fact in a tweet Monday apologizing for his remarks, saying “The criticism is entirely justified.” He explained that he should have said that the data shows “a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction.”
That announcement came a day after Trump, on Twitter, declared that "The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics."
Plasma treatment has been used safely against other diseases, including Ebola and diphtheria, but scientists — including some who work for the U.S. government — are more cautious about it as a treatment for the coronavirus, saying the results are mixed and there is no proof yet that it works against COVID-19.
The latest figures from Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracking website says more than 5.7 million people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus, and more than 178,500 have died — the most of any other country.