There’s been a lot of confusion about COVID-19 testing since the CDC abruptly dropped its recommendation last month that everyone who has come into close contact with an infected person get tested, instead saying there’s no need for people without symptoms to test.
With some partisans and public health officials decrying the change as part of a White House-led effort to artificially suppress the daily number of new infections, it’s important to note what happened in the state that’s led by the first statewide elected official in the nation to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential bid four years ago.
Six days after the CDC action, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control moved in the opposite direction, doubling down on its recommendation for everyone to get tested who’s come in contact with an infected person and adding the need for most of us to have routine monthly tests.
Dr. Brannon Traxler, now DHEC’s interim director of public health, said in an Aug. 30 news release whose top-line recommendation has become boilerplate language in DHEC publications, that people should get tested once a month if they are “out and about in the community or around others, participating in group events, or not able to socially distance or wear a mask.”
To be clear, that’s three different groups of people who ought to be tested every month: those out in the community, those participating in group events and those unable to socially distance or wear a mask.
Gov. Henry McMaster followed up last week, using a question about South Carolina’s plans for distributing an eventual vaccine (which he urged everyone to get once it’s available) as a launching pad to preach COVID testing. “I’d encourage everybody to get tested if you haven’t been,” he said at a news conference. “I’ve been, I think, four times. … There’s really nothing to it, … and it doesn’t hurt.”
Make that five times: After Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette tested positive for COVID-19 last week, the governor and his wife were tested again over the weekend (and again tested negative).
Now, that might have been sooner than ideal after exposure, but it underscores DHEC’s message: In addition to routine testing, we need to get tested anytime we have been “around” anyone who has tested positive or developed symptoms of COVID-19. We need to get tested if we were “within 6 feet of others for more than 15 minutes without wearing a face mask.” Not others who tested positive; any others.
And of course we need to get tested if we’ve developed any symptoms ourselves: fever or chills, sore throat, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, new loss of taste or smell, muscle or body aches, fatigue, headache, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea.
The list of reasons for a test is long because what makes COVID-19 so dangerous is the ease with which people without any symptoms can transmit it to others. So until the vaccine is available, and until enough of us have been vaccinated, one key to getting back to a semi-normal state is identifying carriers quickly.
Lag times for test results are still a problem in some places, but DHEC officials say they’re reducing the turnaround time for tests the state agency performs. You can find a list of free testing sites near you at scdhec.gov.