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UW expert: CDC advisory against COVID testing for all students is ‘irresponsible’

Many schools across Washington will be online this fall. (MyNorthwest photo)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance recently stating that it does not recommend testing all students and faculty when in-person schooling resumes in the fall. However, some health experts have expressed concern over the policy.

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“As colleges and universities explore ways of reopening safely in the autumn, the CDC has made the inexplicable and irresponsible decision not to recommend testing asymptomatic individuals at entry, or on an ongoing (basis),” University of Washington biology professor Carl Bergstrom said Thursday.

The CDC’s justification for the policy largely centers on limited availability of testing resources, as well as the “acceptability among students, their families, faculty and staff.”

According to Bergstrom, though, a lack of resources doesn’t preclude the need for the testing itself.

“If that is the concern, the CDC needs to recommend testing and then acknowledge that in some circumstance the recommended approach may not be feasible because of overwhelming need to use those tests elsewhere,” he suggested. “But if you don’t even recommend testing, you are not putting pressure on universities to think spend the next two months figuring out how to scale up testing capacity — something which is obviously a desperate need in most parts of the country.”

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Columbia University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen echoed that sentiment as well, saying that schools should focus on scaling up their ability to test students and faculty.

“Unbelievable,” she said. “… IMPROVE CAPACITY. Don’t recommend against tests.”

Bergstrom also highlighted the importance of identifying asymptomatic carriers not only before school begins, but throughout the school year as “an important line of defense against spread of the disease.”

“Entry testing is powerful; I want to see frequent on-going testing as well,” he advised.

Reopening guidelines in Washington state don’t mandate COVID-19 tests for all students and faculty prior to the start of school, but do call for daily health screenings before entering school grounds. It also doesn’t explicitly oppose the measure either.

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