The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has diverged from its original messaging and is now saying that much of the testing for COVID-19 may no longer be necessary — a notion that Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said today is “entirely bizarre.”
The new guidance says it’s not necessary for people who have been in close contact with infected people, but don’t feel sick, to get tested. The CDC previously had advised local health departments to test people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.
“When I first heard about this change in guidelines, I actually did not believe it. It seemed entirely bizarre as it undercuts our very basic tenets of how we control an infectious disease,” Cody said. “Testing and having individuals know their status is foundational in our ability to control an infectious disease and certainly our ability to control COVID.”
She said, “This will particularly be important this winter as more respiratory viruses come and circulate. It will be very important to know whether your symptoms are from COVID or something else.”
The revision about testing after contacting with a known COVID-19 case “felt the most bizarre,” Cody said, because testing after contact with a case is essential for the safety of oneself, their loved ones and the community at large.
The county’s health order also requires health care facilities to test contacts of confirmed cases.
“I respect the CDC, have always done that through my career. However, I believe that these changes in the testing guidance have not come from the CDC directly,” Santa Clara County COVID-19 Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said. “I believe these changes from the guidance have come from further up the chain in the federal government … from the White House and they are misdirected.”
Fenstersheib and Cody are both registered Democrats.
Federal officials said the new recommendation was issued by consensus of the White House virus task force.
However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert and perhaps the best known task force member, said today he wasn’t part of the discussion that green-lighted the change.
Fauci told CNN he was undergoing surgery when the new guidance was discussed last week, adding he was “worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact it is.”
The American Medical Association, in a statement, called the change “a recipe for community spread.” The Association of American Medical Colleges called it “a step backward in fighting the pandemic.”
Fenstersheib said that Santa Clara County has upped its testing capabilities from 1,000 tests per day in the beginning of the pandemic to now 6,000 to 7,000 tests per day, and that will not be changing despite CDC revisions.
“Here in our county, in the county of Santa Clara, we are going to continue to work with all of our health care partners to ensure that they offer testing to the groups that need it,” Cody said. “And we, through our county health system are going to continue to offer mass testing at several sites as often and as robustly as we can for as long as it takes.”
There are more than 50 testing sites in Santa Clara County.
Testing sites do not require insurance, a doctor’s note, payment or symptoms and are available to all county residents regardless of immigration status. To find a testing site or book an appointment, people can visit https://www.sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/covid19-testing.aspx. — From the Associated Press and Bay City News