CDC director downplays frequent changes to coronavirus guidance

By | September 23, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield brushed off concerns about the agency’s frequent changes to COVID-19 guidelines in a Senate Health Committee hearing.

Redfield said on Wednesday that changes to the agency’s guidelines, such as a change made in August to say that asymptomatic people do not necessarily need a coronavirus test, can be modified “if the data and science changes.”

After the CDC changed its guidelines, the agency faced accusations that it was discouraging asymptomatic testing so as to convey a lower number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. President Trump has said that testing less would lead to fewer cases.

The CDC’s controversial new testing policy published on Aug. 24 was reversed last week and was then revealed to have been written without input from CDC scientists and did not go through a thorough scientific vetting process before publication.

“The intent of that document … was never to limit testing of asymptomatic individuals,” Redfield said. “The attempt was to reengage the medical and public health community, as part of testing, so that there was a public health action that happens as a consequence of every test.”

Redfield added that he saw soon after that the guidelines “were not interpreted in the manner in which we had intended them to be interpreted” and changed them to say that “those individuals when they’ve been exposed should in fact be tested.”

The CDC has also backtracked on guidance about coronavirus transmission, having reported on Sept. 18 that the virus can be aerosolized and spread through the air only to remove that guidance three days later and say that it had been “posted in error.”

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During Wednesday’s hearing, though, Redfield said the Sept. 18 data was not inaccurate.

“That document that went up was a draft, had not been technically reviewed by CDC,” Redfield said. “There is going to be a technically reviewed document on this issue coming on the website, but the one that was posted on [Sept. 18] was not technically reviewed, and as a consequence, the career scientist at the CDC took it down.”

Redfield did not disclose when the CDC would publish additional guidance on the aerosolized transmission of the coronavirus.