The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to recommend against retesting people who have already been diagnosed with COVID-19. This action will reduce “medically unnecessary” work for overburdened diagnostic laboratories, said the White House’s testing czar on a Thursday call with reporters.
Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, explained that the risk of spreading the virus after three days without symptoms is very low — as long as it’s been at least 10 days since symptoms began. Yet some people who are no longer contagious will still test positive, meaning that repeated testing is not useful, he said. Instead, it is “clogging up the system,” Giroir told reporters.
The news comes as U.S. health officials attempt to make COVID-19 testing more accessible nationwide, and to bring rapid-results testing capabilities to nursing homes. Test turnaround times have grown to more than a week in some places as the burden on diagnostic labs increases.
In response, authorities are now putting more emphasis on rapid-result, point-of-care tests with turnaround times within a day if not minutes. In fact, HHS this week announced that it will begin rolling out point-of-care testing equipment to 2,000 qualified eldercare facility operators. The aim is to allow immediate, on-site testing of staff and residents in areas hit hard by the pandemic.
Health authorities plan is to expand U.S. testing capabilities two-to-threefold within the next couple of months, Giroir told NPR last week. He said he expects that 20 million point-of-care tests per month will be available by September.
Officials are now advising retesting only for certain cases of critically ill, hospitalized patients and for people with suppressed immune systems. These patients should consult with their doctors, Giroir concluded.