Dr. Fauci raises alarm about new changes to CDC coronavirus guidelines

Dr. Fauci raises alarm about new changes to CDC coronavirus guidelines
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony S. Fauci addresses his remarks and urges citizens to continue to follow the President’s coronavirus guidelines during a coronavirus (COVID-19) briefing Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Dr. Anthony Fauci raised alarms on Wednesday about a new change to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's new COVID-19 testing guidelines, which seem to discount the risk of asymptomatic transmission of the disease.

The guidelines were changed on Monday and have increasingly drawn concern from the medical community. They now state: "You do not necessarily need a test" even 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."

But critics argue that asymptomatic transmission of the virus is one of the primary vectors through which it spreads. Discouraging tests for people who have been exposed to the virus but don't have symptoms could make it much more difficult to keep the spread of the disease under control. When people don't have symptoms and they're unaware they're infected, they may be more likely to spread the disease because they go out in public and interact with other people. Arguably, people who are sick need the tests less, because their symptoms are reason enough to avoid other people.

Fauci told CNN that he was not involved when the final decision on the guidelines that was made by the White House Coronavirus Task Force because he was undergoing surgery.

"I was under general anesthesia in the operating room and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding the new testing recommendations," he said. "I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is."

NBC News reported:

A spokesperson from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, which Fauci leads, said that Fauci recalled "quickly reviewing a version of the guidelines" that had circulated previously. "At the time he was not struck by the potential implications of this particular change in the version he reviewed," the spokesperson said.

"Now reading them carefully, he has some concern that the revised guidelines could be interpreted as lessening the importance of asymptomatic spread of virus in the community," the spokesperson said, adding that "if people who come into close and prolonged contact with a documented case of COVID-19 become infected and are asymptomatic and are not tested and given results in a timely fashion, then asymptomatic spread to others could occur."

This is a particularly disturbing turn of events because President Donald Trump has clearly been exerting pressure to direct the administration to make coronavirus decisions based on his perceived political interest, rather than the science and public health considerations. He has also repeatedly claimed, erroneously, that more testing causes more cases. He has even said that he has asked his people to "slow the testing down," even though detecting the spread of the virus is a necessary step to defeating it.

CNN had already reported that the CDC's decision to change the guidelines came from above, rather than as a move based on the agency's research:

"It's coming from the top down," the official said of the new directive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The New York Times reported similar findings:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was instructed by higher-ups within the Trump administration to modify its coronavirus testing guidelines this week to exclude people who do not have symptoms of Covid-19 — even if they have been recently exposed to the virus, according to two federal health officials.

One official said the directive came from the top down. Another said the guidelines were not written by the C.D.C. but were forced down.

CDC Director Robert Redfield has previously pushed to limit testing due to limited capacity, CNN reported.

The incident is disturbing on its own, but it also falls into a broader pattern that suggests a corruption of public health by Trump himself. The CDC has previously changed its recommendations for school reopenings amidst the pandemic to align with the president's rhetoric. And this past weekend, Trump appeared with FDA Commissioner Steven Hahn to announce a new authorization for convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19, despite weak evidence for the therapy. Hahn misrepresented the evidence for the drug's efficacy in the announcement by an order of magnitude. Trump had earlier attacked the FDA on Twitter for supposedly slow-walking research and approvals to hurt him.

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