Fauci Was “Under General Anesthesia” When Task Force Talked New COVID-19 Testing Rules

Doctors have reportedly called the revised testing guidance that excludes asymptomatic people “backwards” and “potentially dangerous.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies before a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on July 31, 2020 in Washington, DC. | Getty Images
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies before a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on July 31, 2020 in Washington, DC. | Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, member of the White House coronavirus task force, told CNN that he is “concerned” about recently released Centers for Disease Control guidance discouraging asymptomatic people from getting tested for COVID-19. His statement conflicts with earlier reports that he signed off on the guidance, some of which the CDC's director appeared to walk back on Thursday.

Fauci told CNN on Wednesday that he was in surgery on August 20 when the task force discussed the CDC’s new guidance that suggests only “vulnerable” individuals need testing after potential COVID-19 exposure. The guidelines, quietly updated Monday, attracted swift criticism from public health experts, and state officials in New York and California have announced that they won't heed the new advice.

As the medical site STAT reported, public health experts are concerned the new guidelines will make identifying people who should self-isolate after COVID-19 exposure more difficult, as well as “undermine efforts to control transmission.”

“I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact it is,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, told CNN correspondent Sanjay Gupta. An NIAID spokesperson confirmed the comments to The Washington Post.

Fauci, who underwent a procedure to remove a polyp on his vocal cords, also said: "I was under general anesthesia in the operating room and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding the new testing recommendations.”

Fauci’s statements conflicted with earlier comments from Health and Human Services testing czar Brett Giroir on Wednesday. Giroir told reporters that Fauci and “all the docs signed off on [the guidance] before it even got to the task force level." CNN also reported that the Trump administration “pressured” the CDC to make the changes.

In interviews with the New York Times, doctors have called the revised guidance “backwards” and “potentially dangerous.”
“I think it’s bizarre,” Daniel Larremore, an infectious diseases modeler at the University of Colorado Boulder, told The Times. “Any move right now to reduce levels of testing by changing guidelines is a step in the wrong direction.”

The CDC Director Robert Redfield told CNN that the agency is focusing on “testing individuals with symptomatic illness.” Those vulnerable populations include “residents and staff in nursing homes or long term care facilities, critical infrastructure workers, health care workers and first responders.”

The Trump administration’s response that failed to contain the virus has in part been attributed to limited testing availability in the earliest stages of the domestic outbreak. As several states saw surges in cases this summer after reopening, President Trump has pointed without evidence to the increasing availability of testing as a potential cause.

In July, the Trump administration quietly mandated that hospitals report COVID-19 data directly to the Department of Health and Human Services, cutting out the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. The move alarmed infectious disease experts at the time, who said it could “severely weaken the quality and availability of data.”