After crippling mail delivery, Trump now sabotages COVID-19 testing
Testing sites like this are not really needed, the new CDC guidelines say. Mass testing is not needed, the agency now says, with only symptomatic people needing tests. Even those exposed to the virus don't need to be tested, the agency says, if they were exposed only for short periods of time. | John Minchillo/AP

OAKLAND, Calif.—On the third day of his “don’t worry be happy” convention Trump’s CDC bought into the president’s long-standing argument that the best way to deal with the pandemic is to ignore it.

The CDC issued new guidelines that essentially say much of the testing being done in the country is not really needed. Only people with symptoms, the CDC is now saying, should be tested. Even people exposed to the virus, the CDC says, need not be tested if their exposure was for short periods of time.

The idea, of course, is that what we don’t know won’t hurt us. Less testing, under that theory, means fewer cases.

The new guidelines, coming on the heels of the administration’s crippling of mail delivery, have sparked outrage among the nation’s front-line caregivers.

With nurses sickening and dying as they try to treat the ever-increasing numbers of coronavirus victims, National Nurses United understandably hit the ceiling on August 26 after learning the federal Centers for Disease Control relaxed its coronavirus testing standards.

And the reports from both The New York Times and Business Insider added CDC relaxed the standards under political pressure from the GOP Trump administration.

CDC’s key change: People who are asymptomatic—who don’t show coronavirus symptoms—don’t have to be tested for the virus if they were exposed to it for 15 minutes or less unless their doctor orders the test or unless they have compromised immune systems.

Before that, the CDC recommended testing of everyone possible.

“With nearly 180,000 Americans now dead from our national failure to effectively confront and contain this dangerous pandemic, it is unconscionable to have our president corrupting public health and safety guidelines that are supposed to protect the public, not increase the virus’ spread,” said Zenei Cortez, RN, president of NNU’s largest affiliate, the California Nurses Association.

Since the coronavirus pandemic was declared on March 13, 5.81 million people have tested positive and 179,310 have died as of 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time on August 26. That includes almost 200 dead RNs, NNU says.

The nurses weren’t the only ones angered. So was Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., whose press conferences, presenting facts, not Trumpite fiction, about the coronavirus pandemic, have been televised ever since the contagion began.

In his August 26 session, Cuomo labeled the relaxation a political stunt designed to improve GOP President Donald Trump’s re-election chances.

The union, whose 190,000 RNs are on the front lines of treating coronavirus sufferers, says exempting sufferers who are asymptomatic from testing blows a big hole in trying to battle the pandemic. That’s because scientists calculate at least 20% of coronavirus carriers are asymptomatic. Jean Ross, NNU co-president, puts the figure at 40%-50%.

Indeed, stories revealing the CDC change appeared the same day Massachusetts university and public health officials reported asymptomatic coronavirus carriers from Biogen’s medical conference in Boston in late February were “superspreaders” transmitting the virus over much of the nation, plus abroad. Some of the 175 attendees carried a mutant virus strain, and it’s been traced to 20,000 people so far.

Administration pressure on the CDC to relax coronavirus testing would be in line with Trump’s past conduct in battling the pandemic. First he ignored it, then he downplayed it, then he predicted it would go away, then he suggested cockeyed cures, including having victims drink bleach.

And he opposes wearing masks or other anti-virus safety measures. That conduct continued through the Republican National Convention, which ran through August 27.

NNU cited the Times report that CDC “was instructed by higher-ups within the Trump administration to modify its coronavirus testing guidelines.”

“One official, the Times reported, said the directive ‘came from the top down. Another said the guidelines were not written by the CDC but were imposed,’” NNU added.

“As a nation, we should be shocked that public agencies that are supposed to be serving the public interest, whether it is regarding contagious disease epidemics, environmental protections, or workplace safety, have been defiled to meet the president’s political or personal goals,” said NNU President Deborah Burger, RN.

Cuomo, along with his Health Commissioner, Dr. Andrew Zucker, joins NNU and its 190,000 RN members nationwide in credibility on battling the virus. New York, once a hotspot, has seen its infection and coronavirus re-transmission—community spread—rate fall below 1%, indicating it is safer to reopen the Empire State’s economy and its schools.

“The CDC put out new guidance that really strains credulity,” he said. “They reversed their own guidance” to say that “if you are in close contact with a person, you don’t need to get a test.

“I’ve spoken to health experts from around the globe. None of them will say this makes any sense from a health point of view. The only plausible rationale is they want fewer people taking tests because, as the president has said, if we don’t take tests you won’t know that people are COVID-positive and the number of COVID-positive people will come down. Yes, that is true. That is his policy of ‘deny the problem.’”

The Times reported the CDC, part of Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services, posted revised coronavirus testing guidelines on its website on August 24. The decision had been made several days before.

Members of Trump’s White House task force on the virus admitted they sat in on the decision. The task force head denied they influenced it. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the nation’s top expert on the virus did not attend that meeting. He was undergoing surgery, CNN reported.

“As care providers for the sickest of patients, nurses and other healthcare workers must be prioritized for testing and contact tracing. The health and safety of nurses and healthcare workers are key to their patients’ safety and to our communities’ safety, especially in this pandemic,” Burger explained.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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