"With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!," tweeted President Trump back on June 23 with regard to diagnostic COVID-19 tests. "Instead of 25 million tests, let's say we did 10 million tests. We'd look like we were doing much better because we'd have far fewer cases. You understand that," Trump said on CBN News. The president told the participants at his Tulsa campaign rally in June, "I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please!'" White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later told reporters, "It was a comment that he made in jest." Trump almost immediately contradicted McEnany, telling a reporter, "I don't kid, let me just tell you, let me make it clear."
And it turns out that the president really wasn't kidding. The New York Times is reporting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was pressured by officials in the White House to change its testing recommendations.
U.S. Public Health Service Admiral Brett Giroir, a physician, denies being pressured. "Let me tell you right up front that the new guidelines are a C.D.C. action," said Dr. Giroir. "As always, guidelines received appropriate attention, consultation and input from task force experts—and I mean the medical and scientific experts—including C.D.C. director Redfield and myself."
The CDC's new guidelines issued on Monday do in fact discourage Americans from getting tested for COVID-19 infections. Before changes were made Monday, the CDC website said testing was recommended "for all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection." The revised guideline reads:
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: You do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or State or local public health officials recommend you take one.
One problem is that if you wait to get tested until after symptoms appear after being exposed to an infected person, you can become an unwitting presymptomatic spreader of the virus. For example, one recent study found that nearly 50 percent of infections were transmitted while folks were presymptomatic. It is also possible that asymptomatic people who could be identified via a more robust testing regime may also be inadvertently infecting other people. In fact, the CDC's own current best estimate scenario assumes that asymptomatic people are 75 percent as infectious as those who have symptoms.
Instead of discouraging people from seeking COVID-19 tests, the U.S. should be massively ramping up testing as part of a comprehensive effort to control the pandemic and enable the safe reopening of the economy.