CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield testifies at a hearing by the Senate Health, Education, Work and Pensions (HELP) at Capitol Hill in Washington, DC
Kevin Dietsch | Reuters
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is developing new guidelines on how to distribute coronavirus tests for screening purposes that can help reopen schools, businesses and entertainment venues, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director on Wednesday.
Testing has so far been used in the United States mostly to diagnose people who are ill or have been exposed to someone with a confirmed Covid-1
"Screening can be very powerful for perhaps non-public health reasons, perhaps getting us back to life, and screening at schools, K-12 screening and university screening," he said during a hearing in the Senate subcommittee. "We provide some guidance on screening."
Redfield said that the CDC would make it clear that testing of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic humans – Covid-19 patients who either never develop symptoms or are in an early stage of the infection before symptoms begin – is important. The agency will have the guidance out during the week, he said. We are also working on a new guide to surveillance testing "where you can actually systematically start looking at random individuals to get an idea that this outbreak is starting to enter society," he said.
Redfield said the agency would eventually roll out. guidance on how states and local health authorities can best distribute resources to implement all three testing strategies.
Many public health specialists have repeatedly called on the CDC and health authorities throughout the federal government to support and more aggressively use surveillance testing and screening. Redfield said Wednesday that the technology did not allow that type of widespread testing before.
"It was not really possible to have much of that guidance when there were no tests," he said, adding that due to recent advances in Covid-19 test technology, the nation is approaching a point where such methods could become used. "We will try to provide guidance for screening, especially in K-12 and universities, but it will also have a role in companies, and also entertainment activities, such as sports."
The new guidelines will clarify the CDC's position on testing asymptomatic people, he said. Last month, the CDC revised the test guide to say that people who do not have symptoms "do not necessarily need a test."
Redfield said on Wednesday that many people "misinterpreted" the wording and that the CDC did not suggest people. asymptomatic should not be tested. He said the agency will continue to clarify its position that more tests across the country will help detect coronavirus and eventually contain it.
Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services, said he agreed with Redfield's feelings about the importance of screening and surveillance testing. He specifically mentioned the Abbott Labs' BinaxNOW test, which is an inexpensive antigen test that can produce results in minutes. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last month, and the U.S. government essentially secured all available tests by the end of the year.
Giroir, who is responsible for the Trump administration's test efforts, added that other fast and affordable tests could hit the market in the weeks and months ahead. Such tests, he said, could be "layered on top" of the BinaxNOW test.
"Our goal is to provide as many tools as possible in the right domain. So we can implement this type of guidance," he said. "In March, it did not make sense to talk about random screening of children who went to school, because you did not have it available."
He added that the United States now has a "very robust ecosystem" for testing and it is "exactly the right time" to consider screening and surveillance testing. Giroir previously said that the federal government distributes 150 million BinaxNOW tests secured by the United States to states to determine how they can best be distributed. However, Giroir added that he strongly urges governors and state health professionals to use the tests to protect their most vulnerable residents in nursing homes, and then to help reopen schools.
"In a couple of weeks, they will be going out to states to support the reopening of the school and other infrastructure, according to their priorities," he said of the tests. "We are at that point. We are on that bend."