CDC Mostly Sidelines Testing for the Vaccinated

All health experts don't agree the new guidance is wise
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 23, 2021 11:45 AM CDT
CDC Reduces Emphasis on COVID-19 Testing
FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, certified medical assistant starts a timer for a coronavirus rapid test in the student health center at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, N.C. U.S. healthy officials say that most fully vaccinated Americans can skip testing...   (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

Federal health officials' new, more relaxed recommendations on masks have all but eclipsed another major change in guidance: Fully vaccinated Americans can largely skip getting tested for the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that most people who have received the full course of shots and have no COVID-19 symptoms don't need to be screened for the virus, even if exposed to someone infected. The change represents a new phase in the epidemic after nearly a year in which testing was the primary weapon against the virus, the AP reports. Vaccines are now central to the response and have driven down hospitalizations and deaths dramatically. Experts say the CDC guidance reflects a new reality in which nearly half of Americans have received at least one shot and close to 40% are fully vaccinated. "At this point, we really should be asking ourselves whether the benefits of testing outweigh the costs—which are lots of disruptions, lots of confusion, and very little clinical or public health benefit," said Dr. A. David Paltiel of Yale, who backed widespread testing at colleges last year.

While vaccinated people can still catch the virus, they face little risk of serious illness from it. And positive test results can lead to what many experts say are unnecessary worry and interruptions at work, home, and school, such as quarantines and shutdowns. Other health specialists say the CDC's abrupt changes on masks and testing have sent the message that COVID-19 is no longer a major threat, even as the US reports daily case counts of nearly 30,000. "The average Joe Public is interpreting what the CDC is saying as 'This is done. It’s over,'" said Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard, who advocates widespread, rapid testing. With more than 60% of Americans not fully vaccinated, he thinks screening of those without symptoms still has a role, particularly among front-line workers. The CDC said the updated guidelines are based on studies showing the robust effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing disease in various age groups and settings. Even when vaccinated people contract COVID-19, their infections tend to be milder, shorter, and less likely to spread to others.

(Read more COVID-19 stories.)

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