CDC updates, again, guidelines on testing people without coronavirus symptoms

By Jamie Gumbrecht, Maggie Fox and Jacqueline Howard, CNN

(CNN) -- The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website has updated, yet again, guidelines for testing people who do not have symptoms of coronavirus.

The new language rolls back controversial changes made to the site last month. It once again stresses that anyone who has been in contact with an infected person should be tested for coronavirus.

"Due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, this guidance further reinforces the need to test asymptomatic persons, including close contacts of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection," it says, calling the change a clarification.

"Testing is recommended for all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, it is important that contacts of individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection be quickly identified and tested," the site now reads.

"Viral tests are recommended to diagnose acute infection of both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, to guide contact tracing, treatment options, and isolation requirements."

The guidance notes that even if people do not have symptoms, they still need a test if they have been in close contact -- such as within 6 feet -- of a person with coronavirus infection for at least 15 minutes.

"In areas where there are a small number of new cases and limited spread, your public health department may request a small number of asymptomatic 'healthy people' to be tested," the guidance says. "If there is significant spread of the virus in your community, your public health department may request significant numbers of asymptomatic 'healthy people' to be tested in order to help stop the spread of the virus."

On August 24, the CDC site was changed to say: "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 move was heavily criticized by doctors and health agencies.

Two sources told CNN the August change was sent to the CDC by the US Department of Health and Human Services and was supposed to go through a vetting process that includes a director of science, fact-checking, cross-checking and several back-and-forths for scientific review -- a process that can take several days.

As the document was going through the process, one of the sources told CNN they woke up one morning and saw that the unaltered document had been posted on the CDC's website in its original form and including some errors.

In a statement Thursday night, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told CNN, "The guidelines, coordinated in conjunction with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, received appropriate attention, consultation and input from task force experts."

There was immediate praise for the changes.

"The return to a science-based approach to testing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is good news for public health and for our united fight against this pandemic. We urge officials to support the work of controlling this pandemic by following medical guidance of experts in the field," Dr. Thomas File, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said in a statement.

"We are hopeful that CDC will work quickly to update any other documents to ensure that this clarification is understood and adopted across the country," the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and the Big Cities Health Coalition said in a joint statement.

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