CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield says during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work and Pensions (HELP) hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Kevin Dietsch | Reuters
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently developing new guidelines for providing coronavirus tests for screening purposes that could help reopen schools, businesses and entertainment venues, said Director Dr. Robert Redfield on Wednesday.
So far, tests have mainly been done in the US to diagnose people who are sick or have been exposed to someone with a confirmed Covid-19 case. The screening would test practically everyone in a given community and look for potentially infectious individuals.
"Screening can be very powerful at bringing us back to life and doing school screening, K-12 screening, and university screening for potentially non-public health reasons," he said at a subcommittee hearing Senate funds. "We're going to bring out some guides on screening."
Redfield said the CDC would make it clear that it is important to test asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people – Covid-19 patients who either never develop symptoms or are in the early stages of infection before symptoms start -. The agency will release this guide within the week, he said. Work is also underway on new guidelines for surveillance testing "where you can actually systematically screen random people to get an idea if this outbreak is popping up in the community," he said.
Redfield said the agency will eventually issue guidance on how best to use resources for states and local health officials to implement all three testing strategies.
Many public health professionals have repeatedly urged the CDC and health officials across the federal government to advocate surveillance testing and screening and use them more aggressively. Redfield said Wednesday that the technology had not previously allowed this type of extensive testing.
"It really wasn't possible to really have much of this guide if there wasn't a test," he said, adding that with recent advances in Covid-19 testing technology, the nation is nearing a point of such Methods can be applied. "We will try to guide screening, especially at K-12 and universities, but it will also play a role in business and entertainment activities like sports too."
The new guidelines will clarify the CDC's position on testing asymptomatic individuals, he said. Last month the CDC revised its testing guidelines so that people without symptoms "don't necessarily need a test."
Redfield said Wednesday that many people "misinterpreted" this wording and that the CDC did not suggest not testing people without symptoms. He said the agency would further clarify its stance that more testing across the country will help detect the coronavirus and ultimately contain it.
Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health for the Department of Health and Human Services, said he agrees with Redfield's view on the importance of screening and surveillance tests. He specifically mentioned Abbott Labs' BinaxNOW test, an antigen test that is inexpensive and can give results in minutes. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last month, and the U.S. government secured essentially all of the tests available by the end of the year.
Giroir, who is responsible for the Trump administration's testing efforts, added that more quick and inexpensive tests could hit the market in the coming weeks and months. Such tests could be "layered" over the BinaxNOW test.
"Our goal is to have as many tools as possible in the correct domain. This is how we can implement that kind of guidance," he said. "In March it made no sense to talk about random screening of children going to school because you didn't have it."
He added that the US now has a "very robust ecosystem" for testing and it is "exactly the right time" to start thinking about screening and surveillance testing. Giroir previously said the federal government is distributing the 150 million US-backed BinaxNOW tests to states so they can determine how best to use them. Giroir added, however, that he strongly encourages governors and state health officials to use the tests to protect their most vulnerable residents in nursing homes and then help reopen schools.
"Within a few weeks they are going to the states to help reopen the school and other infrastructure according to their priorities," he said of the tests. "We are at this point. We are at this inflection."