W.H.O. Flips-Flops from ‘Test Test Test’ to Mass Testing ‘Not Really that Useful’

Coronavirus Test / Covid-19 testing
U.S. Naval Academy/Flickr

World Health Organization (W.H.O.) officials did an about-face Thursday on the agency’s Chinese coronavirus testing guidelines, proclaiming that broad-based population tests are “not really that useful” and that the focus of testing should be on people showing symptoms.

Both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and W.H.O. have reversed their previous position recommending the testing of all suspected cases, including asymptomatic individuals. In the United States, however, the CDC change prompted a backlash from Democrats, their mainstream media allies, and some public health officials who suggested Trump administration politics influenced the agency’s testing guideline revisions.

In answering a question about the controversial policy change by the CDC to focus testing on symptomatic persons or asymptomatic persons with known contact with confirmed cases, Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of the W.H.O emergencies program, indicated that mass testing of all suspected cases is a pipe dream that is too costly.

“Broad-based population-based testing at this point in most countries is not really that useful,” Dr. Ryan told reporters. “It absorbs huge amounts of resources and you have to have a huge capacity to do testing in order to do that.”

Also commenting on the CDC policy revision on Thursday, W.H.O epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhov told reporters the focus of testing should be on individuals who display signs of Chinese coronavirus infection.

Van Kerkhov proclaimed:

Our recommendations are to test suspect cases, and we have definitions for those. We have definitions of contacts, and who contacts are of confirmed cases, and make recommendations that contacts, if feasible, should be tested regardless of the development of symptoms. The focus, though, is on those that do develop symptoms.

Consistent with the new CDC guidelines, the W.H.O. officials indicated that health officials should focus testing on people showing symptoms, except in areas experiencing infection spikes.

“So we need to focus on testing the right individuals,” Dr. Ryan declared. “We need to focus on maximizing the testing within [infection] clusters.”

“It’s really important that when you’re looking specifically for targeted investigations around clusters that you expand the capacity for testing to look for cases that fall on that mild end of the spectrum and may have an asymptomatic infection,” Van Kerkhov added.

The revised CDC guidelines are only suggestions that give local and state health officials the discretion to prescribe tests. Same with the W.H.O.’s testing guidance, but at a global level.

CDC officials revised the agency’s guidelines to say health officials “do not necessarily need” to test asymptomatic people.

Contrary to the statements from Ryan and Van Kerkhov this week, the W.H.O. chief lambasted countries in March for not doing enough testing of “every suspected case,” saying it was a necessary action to contain the deadly and highly contagious virus.

“We have a simple message for all countries: Test, test, test. Test every suspected case. If they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in contact with two days before they developed symptoms and test those people, too,” the U.N. agency’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is not a medical doctor, told reporters.

President Donald Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the W.H.O., accusing the United Nations entity of helping China cover up the extent of the virus and mismanaging its global response. The U.N. agency is not a big fan of the Trump administration’s move. America is the W.H.O.’s biggest global funder.

On Thursday, the COVID Tracking Project, a virus data source cited by various news outlets, acknowledged that weekly new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have already been dropping in the U.S., noting that the situation across the country continues to improve.

Not everyone who tests positive for the virus requires medical attention or dies from it.

Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden and other members of his party slammed President Donald Trump in June for suggesting that the U.S. was doing too much testing.

In sheer number, the U.S., the world’s third-most populous country, leads the globe in reported cases, Worldometer data showed on Friday night.

The U.S also has more reported recoveries than any other country. Only China, the birthplace of the virus and the most populous country in the world, has allegedly reported more tests than the U.S. However, data from China is considered untrustworthy by the international community.

“It’s not necessarily how many tests you do,” Dr. Ryan told reporters. “It is important that the rate of testing is kept high, but it’s also the speed at which those tests are turned around.”

On Thursday, the White House announced a $750 million deal to buy 150 million rapid tests from Abbott Laboratories to provide results in up to 15 minutes.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States is leading the world in testing and the development of a wide range of reliable tests,” the White House acknowledged in a statement.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. had reported over 5.9 million cases and over 180,000 deaths as of Friday Night.

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