“It’s bizarre.”: Arizona health experts confused over new CDC recommendations

Updated: Aug. 26, 2020 at 11:04 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Health experts in Arizona are echoing concerns over new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over who should get tested for COVID-19.

“So many of us in the public health community are just puzzled because the underlying data never changed,” said Will Humble, Executive Director of the Arizona Public Health Association.

Humble served as the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services from 2009 to 2015.

The new guidance says it’s not necessary for people who have been in close contact with infected people, but don’t feel sick, to get tested. It was posted earlier this week on the CDC’s website.

The CDC previously had advised local health departments to test people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.

“We didn’t quite understand where this came from,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, Director of the Pima County Health Department. She said recommendations and processes in Pima County would not change despite this new guidance.

Testing, tracing and treating has been the track to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the state. Now, recommendations seem to break the link between contact tracing and asymptomatic cases.

Federal officials said the new recommendation was issued by consensus of the White House virus task force.

“About 40-percent of people are asymptomatic and 50-percent of the transmission occurs before someone is symptomatic,” said Humble. “Contact tracing and testing of close contacts is a key intervention for a virus that acts that way.”

In Pima County, efforts for testing and contact tracing have accelerated in recent weeks with dozens of testing sites and tracers making calls to anyone who may have been exposed.

Dr. Cullen said the mixed messaging from federal officials could impact current efforts that have helped slow the spread of the virus.

“We are dramatically and consistently encouraging people to get tests because we think that’s the only way we will identify these asymptomatic people,” said Dr. Cullen.

For Humble, he now questions how the CDC will continue to handle the pandemic.

“They’ve always been a trustworthy source of evidence based information and that has been changing in recent weeks and that’s sad,” said Humble.

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