Illinois' top health official has issued a statement highlighting the importance of getting tested for coronavirus, even for those who don't have any symptoms, contradicting new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"In the face of increasing infections, we need to promote more testing, not less, to identify new cases and interrupt further transmission,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement on Thursday.
The CDC quietly tweaked its guidance on COVID-19 testing early last week, now stating that healthy people who have been exposed to COVID-19 "do not necessarily need a test," as long as they don't have symptoms. That's a reversal from previous advice that clearly recommended testing for all close contacts of infected individuals, regardless of whether they had symptoms.
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That change that could result in fewer people being tested and hinder contact tracing efforts, NBC News reports.
President Donald Trump has been outspoken about his belief that the United States has the most COVID-19 cases in the world because of the number of tests it carries out.
Public health experts, including Ezike, have slammed both that belief and the CDC's change in guidance.
“Given that asymptomatic individuals have been linked to virus spread, we will maintain our more stringent guidance to support testing of any Illinois resident who thinks they may have been exposed, as well as asymptomatic close contacts of confirmed cases 5-7 days post exposure," Ezike's statement reads.
Many other epidemiologists also criticized the change in guidance because of the role that asymptomatic people are suspected of playing in spreading the virus.
“This makes no sense. People without symptoms account for up to 50% of transmission,” tweeted Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University and former health commissioner of Baltimore. “We need MORE testing, not less.”
Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the CDC under President Barack Obama, said on Twitter that the change is “probably indefensible” and was “likely imposed on CDC’s website.”
Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, called the change “bizarre.”
“Testing contacts is a core part of contact tracing!” he said on Twitter. 50% of transmission happens before symptoms occur & you make this policy decision? The CDC brand is toast.”
IDPH said Gov. J.B. Pritzker's strategy to combat the pandemic across the state "has always relied on increased testing," noting that Ilinois' state labs were the first outside of the CDC to successfully test for COVID-19 early in the pandemic.
The state crossed the threshold of more than 4 million tests conducted on Sunday and now averages roughly 50,000 tests per day, health officials say.
"Many individuals who test positive for COVID-19 have not reported having symptoms. However, scientific studies have proven that those individuals are still able to spread the disease to family, friends, and members of their community who may become sick and require medical attention and even hospitalization, especially for those with underlying health conditions," IDPH's statement reads. "Illinois will continue advising anyone who comes into close contact with a confirmed case be tested."
There are nearly 300 testing sites in Illinois, IDPH noted last week, including 11 state operated community-based testing sites and 12 mobile testing teams that collect specimens at facilities experiencing outbreaks like nursing homes and correctional centers.
More information on testing can be found on IDPH's website here.