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Coronavirus update: Global case tally tops 30 million, and controversial CDC testing guideline changes were reportedly not made by CDC scientists

HHS revised the guidelines to say asymptomatic patients don’t need testing and then ‘dropped’ them on CDC site without vetting, New York Times reports

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By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch


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The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 rose above 30 million on Friday, and the death toll rose above 946,000, with the U.S. death toll edging closer to 200,000 — almost a fifth of the global tally.

Controversial coronavirus-testing guidelines posted on the CDC website that said asymptomatic people don’t need to get tested even if they have been exposed to the virus were not actually written by the CDC, the New York Times reported, and were posted over the objections of CDC scientists.

Citing internal documents and sources described as familiar with the matter, the Times said the Department of Health and Human Services rewrote the testing guidelines in late August and “dropped” them into the CDC’s website without proper vetting.

The recommendation contained numerous errors (including suggesting tests are for COVID-19, the disease, rather than for the virus), the Times reported, and was inconsistent with the CDC’s messaging, especially as asymptomatic people are considered major vectors of COVID-19’s spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly walked back the new guidelines after an uproar. The CDC reversed the change on Friday.

In case you missed it (Aug. 27): In a second embarrassment for a major U.S. public health agency this week, CDC says asymptomatic people exposed to infection can once again be tested

The incident appears to be yet another instance of the politicization of an historically apolitical agency, which threatens to undermine its credibility during the worst pandemic in a century. HHS has been viewed as more susceptible to political influence, particularly of late.

The report comes a day after President Donald Trump engaged in a dispute with the head of the nation’s main public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about the timeline for a possible COVID-19 vaccine. Trump said a vaccine will be ready “in weeks,” contradicting CDC head Robert Redfield, who had testified under oath that it was more likely to be available in mid-2021.

Trump’s rival in the presidential race, Democrat Joe Biden, said at a CNN town-hall event on Thursday that he would not mislead the American public on a vaccine if elected.

“Mark my words: If I’m president, I’ll always level with the American people, and I’ll always tell the truth,” Biden said in a statement, the Associated Press reported.

Dr. Atul Nakhasi, a physician and policy adviser to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, told MSNBC that the CDC’s timeline as described by Redfield was appropriate.

“If we do get evidence that suggests a vaccine is effective by year-end, we still need 300 million syringes, we need 300 million needles, we need 300 million products, and we need to get it to Americans across this country,” Nakhasi said in an interview. “So ... I think the CDC is being realistic here that it may not be till spring or summer of 2021 that we really get this to the American people at a large scale.”

Dr. Paul Offit, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who co-invented the rotavirus vaccine, told MarketWatch that even when a vaccine is ready, it will not be a panacea.

“People now see vaccines as a magic dust that’s about to be sprinkled over this country and make this all go away,” he said in an interview. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Offit outlined the logistical challenges of what is expected to be a two-dose regimen, the challenges of storage and refrigeration needs that will come with messenger RNA vaccines, and the fact that early vaccines are not expected to be more than 50% to 75% effective.

“Even if it’s highly effective, it’s still not going to be a sure shot. If you get 75%, that means one out of every four people who get it could still get moderate to severe disease, which can cause them to be hospitalized or die, which is why they’re still going to need to wear a mask,” he said. “It will probably be a greater percentage, more than 25%, who could still get either mild infections or asymptomatic infections or they could still shed and be contagious.”

Read now: It’s the end of the world as we know it — and REM’s Michael Stipe doesn’t feel fine

A former Republican official in the Trump White House — Olivia Troye, onetime homeland-security deputy to Vice President Mike Pence — endorsed Biden on Thursday, saying Trump mishandled of the pandemic because his focus was always on re-election rather than public health.

In other news:

• The U.S. Postal Service was prepared to mail face masks to every American household in April, but the White House scrapped the plan at the last minute over fears it would cause a panic, according to multiple reports. The Washington Post first reported Thursday that the post office had a draft news release prepared announcing a plan from the Department of Health and Human Services to deliver more than 600 million face masks to every residential address in the country. The Post obtained the draft release as part of a Freedom of Information Act request. NBC News later independently confirmed the Post report. About 135,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus since April.

• Mainland China counted 32 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, Reuters reported, marking the biggest one-day increase in more than a month and a sharp rise from the nine cases reported on Wednesday. The National Health Commission said all new cases were imported infections, 13 of which were in the northwestern Shaanxi Province with another 12 in Shanghai. China has not confirmed any cases involving local transmission of the virus since mid-August.

• Israel is marking the Jewish New Year with a second nationwide lockdown as officials work to contain a surge in coronavirus cases, the BBC reported. The lockdown will last for three weeks and require Israelis to stay with 1 kilometer of their homes. The number of people allowed in synagogues has also been reduced, with no more than 10 people allowed to meet indoors. Israel has 176,933 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 1,169 people have died, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

Click to Play

What Does a Second Coronavirus Lockdown Look Like? Ask Israel

Israel became the first developed country to impose a second nationwide lockdown amid rising Covid-19 cases. As businesses are forced to close ahead of major Jewish festivals, WSJ's Dov Lieber meets restaurant owners who worry they may never reopen. Photo: Amir Cohen/Reuters

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