MN health officials criticize CDC change to COVID-19 testing guidelines

The MDH wants asymptomatic people who may have been exposed to get tested.

The Minnesota Department of Health does not agree with changes made to testing guidelines for the coronavirus by the federal government. 

The change of significance issued by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) advises people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes to now avoid being tested unless they develop symptoms or they have an underlying health condition that could lead to severe illness. 

Previous guidance from the CDC advised anyone – regardless of age and underlying conditions – who was in close proximity to an infected individual for 15+ minutes to get tested. The new guidance, as it is written on the CDC website

"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."

MDH infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann is advising Minnesotans to still be tested if exposed, even if symptoms aren't present. 

"We are not changing our guidance related to testing of asymptomatic contacts. If there is testing capacity, this remains an important group to test. It allows us to identify likely cases earlier (every case was once a contact)," Ehresmann said in an email to Bring Me The News. 

"We know these individuals have had a confirmed exposure, many will develop illness, and a certain portion of those will not have symptoms. So testing of asymptomatic individuals will help us identify potential cases earlier." 

"Our testing capacity is increasing and we need to use it in a manner that will help us identify cases quickly – and testing someone with a known exposure certainly is the most targeted way to do so," she added. 

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The New York Times reports that it is unclear where the directive to change the guidelines came from, with some sources telling the Times that it came "from higher-ups in Washington at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services," while a Trump Administration spokesperson said it was a "CDC action." 

Regardless, the Minnesota Department of Health has the testing capacity to handle asymptomatic patients who believe they were exposed to the virus, and the department maintains that getting a test is beneficial. 

Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious diseases specialist at Emory University, claimed that there are only two reasons the federal government would advise against asymptomatic testing.

"There are only two reasons for this change: We are having supply issues and too many sick people so we need to focus testing on symptomatics or Trump needs to see a drop in cases," del Rio wrote.

Testing capacity is not an issue in Minnesota, Ehresmann said.

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