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Cuomo condemns new CDC guidelines

Governor Andrew Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called changes in CDC guidelines easing testing standards for Americans exposed to someone with COVID-19 “political propaganda,” and said he won’t follow them.

The Centers for Disease Control guidelines on who should be tested for the coronavirus now say that anyone who has had “close contact,” within six feet of a confirmed COVID-19 infected individual for at least 15 minutes, should get tested.

But until Monday, the guidelines recommended testing for anyone with a recent “known or suspected exposure” to the virus, even if they were asymptomatic. Studies show COVID-19 positive people without symptoms, or who are pre-symptomatic, can spread the virus. The new CDC guidelines say that not everyone who has symptoms of the disease or might have been in contact with someone who is ill, needs to get tested.

The changes startled and concerned health experts. Some experts say if followed, the new rules would lead to fewer tests being administered, and perhaps more illness and death. In a tweet, former CDC Director Thomas Frieden called it a “sad day”.

Gov. Cuomo condemned the new CDC rules as “political propaganda,” that he said is aimed at boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. And he said New York State won’t follow them.

“Shame on the people in the CDC,” Cuomo said. “These will be indefensible actions in the light of history.”

Polls show the public does not like the president’s handling of the virus. The U.S. has among the highest rate of infection of any country in the world. Cuomo said testing fewer people fosters what he said is the president’s strategy of denial, when it comes to the virus.

“The only plausible rationale is they want fewer people taking tests because, as the president has said, if we don't take tests, you won't know that people are COVID-positive and the number of COVID-positive people will come down,” Cuomo said.

The state’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said he’s been talking to the scientists at the CDC, who confirm the guidelines were not changed because of new scientific information.

“It makes absolutely no sense and I've spoken to the scientists at the CDC and they say it's political,” said Zucker. 

New York, which in the spring had the highest rate of transmission of the virus in the world, has since seen that rate dramatically lower. The state has had an infection rate of under 1% for two weeks.

The CDC on Friday also made changes to its rules regarding travel quarantines. Previously, it recommended that anyone traveling from or returning home from a country or state with a high rate of the virus should quarantine for two weeks. It now says travelers should follow quarantine rules set up by individual states and local governments instead. The governor said New York is not following the new travel rules, either, and recommends that businesses here also ignore it and follow the state’s advice instead. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.