Revised CDC Guidance on COVID-19 Testing May Exclude Many Who Have Been Exposed to Virus

August 28, 2020

The revised guidance states asymptomatic persons that have been in close contact with an infected person do not need to be tested for COVID-19.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing guidelines in a way that may exclude many patients who have been exposed to the virus.

The CDC updated the COVID-19 testing guidelines on August 24, 2020, to now state that if a patient has been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes but does not show symptoms that person does not need to be tested unless they are vulnerable or their health care provider or state or local public health officials recommend it.

“A negative test does not mean you will not develop an infection from the close contact or contract an infection at a later time,” added the guidelines.

The CDC, however, previously recommended COVID-19 testing for ALL asymptomatic patients with known or suspected exposure to persons with COVID-19 infection, due to the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission.

This change has been met with skepticism from healthcare leaders including Susan Bailey, MD, president of the American Medical Association who released a statement on August 26, 2020, saying:

“Months into this pandemic, we know COVID-19 is spread by asymptomatic people. Suggesting that people without symptoms, who have known exposure to COVID-positive individuals, do not need testing is a recipe for community spread and more spikes in coronavirus. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updates a guidance the agency should provide a rationale for the change. We urge CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services to release the scientific justification for this change in testing guidelines.”

In response to these and other concerns expressed by public health officials, CDC director Robert Redfield, MD, on Thursday, August 27, 2020 issued a statement saying, in part, that testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients. As quoted in the New York Times, Dr Redfield’s statement also says:

“Testing is meant to drive actions and achieve specific public health objectives. Everyone who needs a Covid-19 test, can get a test. Everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test; the key is to engage the needed public health community in the decision with the appropriate follow-up action.”

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