PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island has no plans to change its testing policy following the federal government’s controversial decision to dial back guidelines around contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week tweaked its testing guidelines, determining close contacts of people who have become infected with the disease don’t necessarily need to receive a test if they are not showing any symptoms.
In Rhode Island, close contacts are not always tested automatically, but R.I. Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said officials are not taking that option off the table, either.
“While we always pay close attention to the recommendations coming out of the CDC, we are taking a more aggressive approach of testing in Rhode Island,” he said Thursday. “We are not adopting a policy of not testing asymptomatic close contacts.”
The federal agency is ultimately leaving it to local and state health agencies to decide who should get tested, but the decision nonetheless has evoked criticism from many public health experts, including Dr. Ashish Jha, incoming dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
“Scaling back testing of asymptomatic people who have been exposed to Covid makes no clinical sense,” he tweeted. “It will help propagate the virus.”
Asymptomatic testing has been a major part of Rhode Island’s overall response strategy, as the state decided early in the pandemic to start testing certain groups of high-risk people, such as hospital workers and nursing home resident, regardless of symptoms.
More recently, the state has expanded asymptomatic testing to anyone who recently attended a protest, along with young adults and people traveling to parts of the country – including Massachusetts – where travel is still restricted for Rhode Islanders.
On Thursday, Rhode Island reported a record-breaking number of positive and negative tests returned during a single day – 8,954 tests total – and health officials are hoping to have the capacity to rapidly test large groups of students and teachers, regardless of symptoms, to make in-person learning possible this year.
“Case finding is central to our response in Rhode Island,” Wendelken said. “That means testing aggressively so we can find as many cases as possible and then getting people into isolation and quarantine right away to prevent the spread of the disease.”
The CDC continues to recommend contacts of infected people quarantine for two weeks, aligning with Rhode Island’s health and safety standards. But the federal agency in the past has been criticized for bowing to political pressure, which Jha claimed is happening again with this latest decision over testing.
“Its heartbreaking to see CDC politicized this way,” he tweeted Thursday morning. “Obviously not a science-driven decision. And will lead to more Americans getting infected and dying.”