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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now states that even asymptomatic people who have been exposed to COVID-19 should be tested.

It’s a reversal of the controversial guidance issued in late August, which said that people without COVID-19 symptoms did not necessarily need a test unless it was recommended by a health care provider/health official or if they were “vulnerable” (at high risk for COVID-19 complications).

However, the new CDC guidance states that even individuals without any COVID symptoms who have been in close contact with an infected person for at least 15 minutes will need a test.

“Due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, this guidance further reinforces the need to test asymptomatic persons, including close contacts of a person with documents SARS-CoV-2 infection,” states the CDC, referring to the virus that causes COVID-19.

It’s important to be tested after exposure to someone who is positive for COVID-19 and to self-quarantine at home and stay separated from other household members as you wait for your test results. That means using a separate bedroom and bathroom, if available.

Since you can still test positive at some point after a negative test, you should still self-isolate for 14 days even if you receive a negative test, says the CDC. If it’s impossible for you to self-isolate because you’re a critical infrastructure worker who must work, you should wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid crowds and indoor crowded places, wash your hands frequently, and monitor yourself for symptoms.

About 40 percent of COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic (meaning the infected individual shows no symptoms) and 50 percent of transmissions occur before symptoms appear, according to current CDC estimates.

This asymptomatic estimate was reflected in a recent study published in the journal Nature. Researchers observed data from the Italian town of Vò. After the town experienced the country’s first COVID-19 death on February 21, 2020 it was put into immediate quarantine for 14 days. Most of its 3,275 citizens were tested for SARS-CoV-2 infection at the beginning of the lockdown and after two weeks.

The testing showed that 2.6 percent of the population was positive for COVID-19 at the start of lockdown, and 1.2 percent was positive at the end of lockdown. Researchers found that 42.5 percent of the positive cases across both surveys were asymptomatic.

What’s more, the symptomatic patients had a similar viral load (a measure of virus particles, which is associated with transmission risk and disease severity) as the asymptomatic patients.

Overall, the CDC currently states that the following individuals should get tested for the virus that causes COVID-19:

  • People who have symptoms of COVID-19
  • People who have had close contact (within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes) with someone who has COVID-19
  • People who have been asked or referred to get testing by their health care provider or local/state health department

Although a wide range of symptoms have been associated with COVID-19, common symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, and new loss of taste or smell.

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COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 10, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning-scenarios.html.

COVID-19 Testing Overview. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August 24, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html.

Lavezzo E, et al. Suppression of a SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in the Italian municipality of Vo’. Nature. June 30, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2488-1.

Overview of Testing for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 18, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/testing-overview.html.