This is an enormous mistake. If we want to control the spread of COVID-19, the United States must adopt a new testing policy that prioritizes people who, although asymptomatic, may have the virus and infect many others.
We should target four groups. First, all health-care workers and other first responders who directly interact with many people. Second, workers who maintain our supply chains and crucial infrastructure, including grocery-store workers, police officers, public-transit workers, and sanitation personnel. The next group would be potential “super-spreaders”—asymptomatic individuals who could come into contact with many people. This third group would include people in large families and those who must interact with many vulnerable people, such as employees of long-term-care facilities. The fourth group would include all those who are planning to return to the workplace. These are precisely the individuals without symptoms whom the CDC recommends against testing.
Not testing suspected COVID-19 patients will not harm those patients. Because we do not have any treatment targeted for the new coronavirus, confirming an infection generally does not change the way a patient’s symptoms are treated. Patients suspected of having COVID-19 should be presumed to be infected and receive care accordingly. Symptomatic patients should be tested only in the rare case where a positive test would meaningfully change what type of care is delivered.