Beshear slams CDC’s change in guidance for testing, keeps noting kids’ cases in counties that have started in-person classes

Picture of a coronavirus. Text: Covid-19 update

By Mary Meehan
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear broke sharply with the Trump administration on a key coronavirus issue Wednesday, calling “wrong and reckless” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s revised guidance for coronavirus testing.

“I haven’t criticized Washington much, but is this one, this one hurts us all,” Beshear said at his daily briefing.

The CDC quietly changed its guidance to eliminate advice that anyone who’s had close contact with someone who has the virus should get tested, regardless of whether they have symptoms. It now says, “You do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual, or your health-care provider or state or local public-health officials recommend you take one.”

Health Commissioner Steven Stack so recommended: “I would encourage you, if you have a high-risk exposure to still get tested, and not use this to justify a lack of need to get testing.”

“It’s very important to get tested,” Stack said, especially, if you had a high-risk exposure or have symptoms or are around anyone who is (in) a high-risk population.”

Other public-health experts have expressed alarm at the change, Market Watch reports, largely because it is estimated that up to 40 percent of people who have the coronavirus don’t have symptoms, but can still spread it.

“I am dumbfounded by this recommendation,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN. He said the only reason he could think of for such a recommendation is reduced testing, which will result in “more cases, more deaths.”

CNN reported. based on an unnamed source, that the CDC changed the testing guidance under pressure “from the top” of the Trump administration. The Washington Post reported that it was approved by the White House Coronavirus Task Force; a key member, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, told CNN that the vote was taken when he was under general anesthesia in surgery.  “I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern,” Fauci said. “In fact. it is.”

The Post reports, “Brett Giroir, an assistant Health and Human Services secretary who coordinates coronavirus testing, said the revision does not reflect any effort to reduce testing,” which President Trump has sometimes seemed to want. “He said it reflects evolving understanding that a negative test result a few days after exposure may give someone false confidence that they have not become infected.”

Stack acknowledged that the back-and-forth could confuse the public. But he said the new guidance also says to follow state guidelines in areas where the disease is more active, which applies to much of Kentucky.

Whether or not to get tested is not the only guidance being adjusted. Stack said the state will no longer advise workers who in essential industries such as food, energy and health care that they can pass up quarantine if exposed.

“The entire concept of critical infrastructure worker, an essential worker, has unfortunately become fairly distorted as we’ve gone on,” Stack said. “Local health departments are finding all sorts of people are claiming they’re critical infrastructure workers and they shouldn’t have to quarantine after a high-risk exposure.”

Numbers and schools: Beshear announced 696 new coronavirus cases in Kentucky, putting the state’s seven-day rolling average at 650, sixth highest of the pandemic.

The percentage of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days is 4.64%, the second time this week it has dipped below the 5% level that puts states in a Coronavirus Task Force danger zone.

“That’s one of the lowest numbers we’ve had in the past four or so weeks,” Beshear said, calling it “still too high.”

Minors accounted for 16% of the new cases, or 114. Beshear said they included three school-age children in both Calloway and Barren counties and nine in Warren County, all of which began in-person classes this week. He said Warren has had 23 such cases just four days after starting school last week, despite Beshear’s recommendation to wait until Sept. 28.

Children testing positive, he said, are “continuing to be a larger and larger piece [in] some school districts that either are opening or have opened.” Then he stepped up his pressure on local school officials, to the point of suggesting that they reverse course.

“We need to make sure that we make decisions based on science on what’s in the best interest of those we serve and not just based on complaints,” he said. “When we start making decisions based on that, on comments on Facebook, then you very quickly let a small group of folks that are upset know how to steer your decision-making.

“So, if you’re in an area where you think you’ve made a wrong decision, there’s always time to make the right one.”

According to state data, as of Wednesday there were active cases in 59 students and 28 school staff, in 40 districts and 74 schools.

Kentucky has 606 covid-19 hospital cases, 146 of them in intensive care and 96 of those on ventilators. There are 557 active cases among residents in long-term care and 341 active cases among employees.

Beshear reported seven new covid-19 deaths Wednesday, bringing Kentucky’s total to 896. The fatalities were an 89-year-old woman from Boone County; an 81-year-old woman from Graves County; a 79-year-old woman from Greenup County; two men, ages 50 and 89, from Jefferson County; a 91-year-old woman from Oldham County; and an 83-year-old man from Whitley County.

Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 136; Todd, 48; Warren, 47; Christian, 41; Madison, 30; Fayette, 27; Scott, 26; Bullitt, 23; Lewis, 21; Daviess, 18; Jackson, 11; and 10 in Boone, Kenton and Rowan. Beshear noted some of the smaller counties, saying “Our counties are tiny.”

In other covid-19 news Wednesday:

  • Ten more athletes at the University of Kentucky have tested positive for an active infection of the coronavirus, Jon Hale reports for the Louisville Courier Journal. UK tested 416 athletes in the latest round, Aug. 7-19. UK did not specify teams of the athletes who tested positive, but football coach Mark Stoops told reporters that three of his players had tested positive in this round..
  • Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman gave an update on the Team Kentucky Fund, to which more than $3.5 million has been donated.  She said that through the state’s partnership with Community Action Kentucky, for every $1 given to the fund, $1.70 goes to Kentuckians in need. She showed the top categories: electricity: $101,952; food: $123,209; mortgage: $102,287; rent: $410,291; for a grand total: $789,659.  Coleman said 2,421 vouchers had been issued, helping 1,032 households.
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