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New virus testing rules bewilder experts
More Bulloch schools affected by COVID-19

NEW YORK — U.S. health officials have sparked criticism and confusion after posting guidelines on coronavirus testing from the White House task force that run counter to what scientists say is necessary to control the pandemic.

The new guidance says it is not necessary for people who don't feel sick but have been in close contact with infected people to get tested. It was posted earlier this week on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC previously had advised local health departments to test people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. But on Monday a CDC testing overview page was changed to say that testing is no longer recommended for symptom-less people who were in close contact situations.

CDC officials referred all questions to the agency's parent organization, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. That suggests that HHS ordered the change, not CDC, said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public health researcher.

The decision came out of meetings of a White House coronavirus task force, HHS officials said.

In a call with reporters later Wednesday, Dr. Brett Giroir, the HHS assistant secretary for health, said the guidance language came from the CDC. But he also said many people were involved in “lots of editing, lots of input." He said federal officials achieved consensus but it was difficult to attribute the final language to any one source.

Bulloch County schools

Meanwhile in Bulloch County, nine public schools and the after school program at one elementary school have been affected by COVID-19 since classes began on Aug. 17, according to the latest figures released on the school system’s dedicated website set up to disclose coronavirus cases.

New cases and new quarantine numbers were announced Wednesday at Portal Elementary, Sallie Zetterower Elementary, Southeast Bulloch Middle, Southeast Bulloch High and Stilson Elementary. Also, one case and one quarantine were reported from the After-School program at Mattie Lively Elementary.

So far, there have been a total of 15 known positive COVID-19 cases and 212 students and staff quarantined as a precaution. 

Here is the breakdown through Wednesday afternoon:

Langston Chapel Middle School

1 case; 25 quarantined on 8/19/2020

Mattie Lively Elementary School

1 case; 7 quarantined on 8/19/2020

Mattie Lively Elementary Afterschool Program

1 case; 1 quarantine on 8/25/2020

Nevils Elementary School

1 case; 19 quarantined on 8/19/2020

Portal Elementary School

1 case; 7 quarantined on 8/19/2020

2 cases; 24 quarantined on 8/20/2020

1 case; 14 quarantined on 8/26/2020

Sallie Zetterower Elementary School

3 cases; 50 quarantined on 8/26/2020

Southeast Bulloch High School

No cases; 2 quarantined on 8/26/2020

Southeast Bulloch Middle School

No cases; 2 quarantined on 8/26/2020

Statesboro High School

1 case; 16 quarantined on 8/24/2020

Stilson Elementary School

1 case; 13 quarantined on 8/24/2020

1 case; 16 quarantined on 8/24/2020

1 case; 16 quarantined on 8/26/2020

Bulloch COVID numbers

Also, it was announced Tuesday that two more Bulloch County residents had died due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, bringing the total number of local fatal cases to 21. The most recent victims to succumb to the virus were an 83-year -old woman with unknown underlying conditions and a 71-year-old female with no known comorbidities.

There were 14 new cases reported Tuesday, and 21 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Bulloch to 1,546 since the start of the pandemic. East Georgia Regional Medical Center staff are caring for 21 patients Wednesday, six of whom were on ventilators, according to Ted Wynn, Bulloch County’s public safety and Emergency Management Agency director.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Bulloch County has reported 109 hospitalizations. Bulloch County EMS has transported a total of 94 people with probable COVID-19 and 90 with confirmed cases, he said.

In Georgia, the state reported 2,322 new cases Wednesday, pushing the total number of confirmed cases to 260,590. The death toll in Georgia passed 5,300 to 5,311, as 50 more state residents were reported dead.

In the United States, 179,310 American have died from coronavirus and the US has recorded 5,810,192 confirmed cases according to statistics from Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. 

New testing rule called ‘bizarre’

Across the country, public health experts called the change bizarre. They noted that testing contacts of infected people is a core element of public health efforts to keep outbreaks in check, and that a large percentage of infected people — the CDC has said as many as 40% — exhibit no symptoms.

“I was taken aback and didn’t know that it was under consideration,” said John Auerbach, president of Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit that works to improve U.S. preparedness against disease. “The recommendation not to test asymptomatic people who likely have been exposed is not in accord with the science.”

Giroir said the change in guidance was passed by consensus by the White House task force without input from Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. “There was no weight on the scales by the president or the vice president” or HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Giroir said.

Dr. Tom Frieden, who was head of the CDC during the Obama administration, said the move follows another recent change: to no longer recommend quarantine for travelers coming from areas where infections are more common.

“Both changes are highly problematic” and need to be better explained, said Frieden, who now is president of Resolve to Save Lives, a nonprofit program that works to prevent epidemics.

Frieden said he, too, believes HHS forced CDC to post the changes. He called it “a sad day” because “CDC is being told what to write on their website."

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