Santa Clara County health leaders on Wednesday blasted recent changes to the CDC’s coronavirus guidelines that relaxed testing recommendations for asymptomatic individuals in a press conference.
The changes, which appeared Monday on the CDC’s website, say that people who’ve been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient but are asymptomatic “do not necessarily need a test,” unless they are a “vulnerable individual” or are recommended to take one by healthcare providers or public health officials.
“I actually didn’t believe it, for it seemed entirely bizarre,” said Santa Clara County public health director Dr. Sara Cody. “The truth is that if you’ve been in contact with someone who is infected with COVID, you absolutely need to get a test.”
The Santa Clara County Department of Public Health’s testing page says that anyone who has been exposed to a COVID-19 patient, regardless of whether they have symptoms, should get tested immediately. The CDC’s own page for COVID-19 planning scenarios estimates for the purposes of public health planning that 40% of COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic.
Video: Medical correspondent calls new CDC guidelines ‘ridiculous’
Cody also criticized the revised guidelines for saying that people with mild symptoms “may wish to get a test and a test may be offered,” appearing to refer to a revision on the CDC website that says tests “may” be advised for people exhibiting mild COVID-19 symptoms.
“Our local guidance and our order is quite clear, that anyone with any symptoms of COVID should be tested right away,” she said.
Cody’s concerns echoed those raised by politicians and medical experts across the country, who said that the recommendation to not test asymptomatic individuals was unscientific and could skew data on infection rates. California Governor Gavin Newsom and New York’s Andrew Cuomo have both said their states will not be following the updated federal guidelines.
“I agree with Dr. Cody 100%,” said Steven Goodman, a professor of epidemiology at Stanford. “I’ve been concerned about some CDC actions previously but this is the first recommendation they’ve made that’s actually gotten me angry.”
Goodman said the guidelines would lead directly to more serious cases and more deaths if followed and noted that the CDC hasn’t given an explanation for the changes. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in an email to the Associated Press that the changes were informed by “current evidence and the best public health interventions.”
President Trump has said on numerous occasions that expanded testing — seen by many public-health officials as the key to controlling the virus — hurts him politically by showing higher case numbers.
“I believe that these changes in the guidance have come from further up the chain and the federal government, from the White House,” Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 testing officer, said at Wednesday’s conference. “They’re totally misdirected. Failing to test is not going to end this pandemic. Failing to test will not make the virus go away.”
Testing capacity in Santa Clara County is not an issue, according to Fenstersheib. He said at Wednesday’s conference that the county had done a “tremendous job” increasing testing capacity and that they were now conducting upwards of 6,000-8,000 tests a day.
“We have plenty of testing sites on our website, the fairgrounds have recently been open, we have the capacity of testing over 1000 there a day, so people, please take advantage of the testing in this community,” he said.
Cody and Fenstersheib said that Santa Clara County would not be changing any of its guidelines on coronavirus testing.
“We are going to continue to work with all of our healthcare partners to ensure that they offer testing to the groups that need it,” Cody said. “And we… 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.