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CDC backs off controversial recommendation for COVID-19 testing

The fallout over a new CDC policy to limit testing to only those showing symptoms of COVID-19 was widespread and swift.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Centers for Disease Control is reversing itself again.

Earlier this week, the agency quietly issued a new guideline to restrict COVID-19 testing to those showing symptoms only. 

But the move didn't last long.

13 Investigates reports on the backlash from experts that forced a flip-flop.

The fallout over a new CDC policy to limit testing to only those showing symptoms of COVID-19 was widespread and swift.

CDC Director Robert Redfield came out with the controversial guidance with the support of the nation's coronavirus task force. But after just three days of backlash, the CDC is reportedly walking back its stance.

"This recommendation by CDC didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, so I was very happy to see that today, they reversed course," said Paul Halverson, a former senior manager at the CDC. 

Halverson is also the founding dean and professor at the IU Fairbanks School of Public Health. It's the same program that helped Indiana to conduct the first comprehensive COVID-19 prevalence study in the nation.

"If we're going to get a handle on it, we need to know who's positive and we need to take appropriate action," Halverson explained.

The study showed that one out of every 11 people with COVID infections involved individuals who were symptomatic or at high risk. Forty-five percent of those who tested positive for active viral infection were asymptomatic and had no symptoms. Individuals were twelve times more likely to test positive if living with someone who had already tested positive for the virus.

"Over 40 percent of the people who have positive results are asymptomatic. Of course, that means that people could have the disease, could be spreading COVID and not necessarily know that, so that's why testing is so darn important," Halverson explained.

The Indiana State Department of Health hasn't wavered and recommends "anyone who lives or works in Indiana can be tested at an Optum site, but should consider getting tested, particularly if at high risk." 

The high risk category includes those over the age 65, those with underlying health conditions, or members of a minority population considered at greater risk, even if they have no symptoms. The state's guideline also includes close contacts of confirmed COVID-19-positive patients."

As for the CDC's decision to relax the 14-day self-quarantine for international travelers or those making domestic trips to states with high infection rates, the CDC is holding steady on its position to loosen those requirements.

Halverson said he understands, in part, because some countries actually have lower COVID-19 rates than the United States. But he cautions that if it comes down to all or nothing, he would uphold the 14-day quarantine. 

"I think it's only prudent that you self-isolate and just make sure that you're not part of the problem," said Halverson. 

All of the experts agree on the recommendations to stop the spread including: wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently and social distancing when possible.