President Donald Trump has said he ordered underlings to "slow down" coronavirus testing so there would be fewer confirmed cases. His defenders dismissed it as a joke. But now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has inexplicably declared it's no longer necessary for asymptomatic people to test after having contact with those who are infected.
What could possibly account for this medically bizarre shift, which has baffled doctors nationwide? Politico cites two unnamed officials saying the White House ordered it. Let this be a lesson: Just because Trump's assertions often sound insane doesn't mean he's not serious.
One of the unique dangers of this illness is that it's harmless to some and devastating to others, but it can be transmitted by virtually anyone. That's why testing must not be limited just to those who show symptoms. The science backing this has long been well understood.
But Trump has repeatedly tried to blame America's high infection rate on increased testing. "If we stopped testing right now, we'd have very few cases, if any," he told reporters in mid-June. Using that lunatic logic, cancer, car accidents or any other danger could be deemed harmless by preventing data collection. But that wouldn't make them less deadly. And it isn't just positive test results that define the coronavirus crisis, but the percentage of positive results, along with the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.
Yet Trump doubled down at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20, saying that "when you test ... you're going to find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down, please." Trump aides insisted he was kidding. When reporters ran that by Trump, he responded, "I don't kid."
Apparently not. The change in the CDC's recommended testing protocol this week was made quietly on its website, with no announcement. The revised statement says that people who have "been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes but do not have symptoms ... do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual." This despite the fact that the CDC itself has concluded that 40% of infected people show no symptoms but can still transmit the virus.
CDC officials deny there was White House pressure to change the guidelines, but with this administration, denials mean nothing. Shocked medical professionals around the country, along with governors and other leaders, say they intend to ignore this new guidance from America's premier public health entity on grounds that it makes no medical sense. The worst part is, they're right.
Trump's defenders often argue that Americans should quit focusing on his reckless words and judge him by his deeds — as if the two bear no relationship to each other. They do. And this time, those words could well cost lives.
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