Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reversed their guidelines on who should be tested for the coronavirus after experts, both inside and outside the agency, raised concerns about public confusion over testing and how it’s impacting the country’s ability to gain control of the epidemic. The change has reverted to anyone who has had close contact with an individual who is found to have the coronavirus should be tested for the disease. Back in August, the agency had said that if you didn’t have symptoms of COVID-19, then you “do not necessarily need a test.”
The change in August was done after the White House coronavirus task force directed the CDC to make the modification. This resulted in many public health and medical professionals throughout the country to issue statements saying that this would severely hinder the ability to identify infected persons resulting in further spread of the virus. The experts point to the CDC’s own estimations that up to 40% of people infected don’t have symptoms but still could be highly infectious as to why testing asymptomatic people is critical.
One group that is particularly prone to being asymptomatic carriers are children. This means that they’re likely to spread it to older family members who are more inclined to have symptoms and severe cases. With schools having reopened recently, there are some worries about the effects on infection rates.
To decrease the risk, the obvious answer is to test children for the virus. Several limiting factors make this difficult. There are age limits at some testing sites, children may fear getting swabbed, so they fight it (this could make the results inaccurate if a good enough sample wasn’t obtained), and since most children don’t have symptoms, they don’t qualify for immediate testing. All of these limitations affect our understanding of how the virus is spreading amongst a large portion of our population.
While testing continues to be a problem, hospitals across the nation are doing everything that they can to be prepared for an influx of COVID-19 patients in the next few months. At the beginning of the pandemic, they weren’t ready for the onslaught, which caused beds to fill up, supplies to run out, and the efficacy of treatment to be less than optimal. Thankfully, they’ve learned in a short time and now have a better grasp of how to triage patients, decide who needs a ventilator, which treatments to use, and which/how much supplies they need. This has led to hospitals stockpiling masks, personal protective equipment, and medications to be ready for the next influx.
The politics isn’t limited to testing either. It recently came to light that Paul Alexander, a Trump appointee to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), attacked Dr. Anne Schuchat, the deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after comments she made to JAMA Network in June. Dr. Schuchat had said of the virus that she hoped the country could “take it seriously and slow the transmission.” Furthermore, she commented that “we have way too much virus across the country…right now.” Her remarks came as COVID-19 cases were starting to surge, but the president and his top advisors were insisting that the country should be reopened.
Dr. Alexander sent an email to his supervisor, Michael Caputo (assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS), in which he criticized Schuchat. In the email, he wrote, “Her comments are in contrast to those of senior members of the Trump administration — notably Vice President Pence, who said on Friday, ‘we have made truly remarkable progress.’” Alexander persisted, “Importantly, having the virus spread among the young and healthy is one of the methods to drive herd immunity. She is duplicitous.” While both men are no longer in their respective positions, the email gives insight into one of the many ways of how political agendas are being imposed rather than scientific data leading the way.