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WHO: People With Mild or No Symptoms Still Need to Be Tested

A paramedic with Israel's Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David) national emergency medical service performs a swab test at a drive-thru testing service for COVID-19 coronavirus in Jerusalem, Aug. 27, 2020.

The World Health Organization says it is important to test people who have been exposed to COVID-19 even if they are showing mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

At the organizations regular Thursday briefing, WHO technical lead for COVID-19 Maria Van Kerkhove told reporters the most important factor is testing to identify active cases so they can be isolated, and their contacts can be traced.

As an example, she said recent surges of the virus have involved clusters of people who may have been exposed to the virus. In cases like that, testing may need to be expanded to include people on the milder or asymptomatic end of the spectrum.

Van Kerkhove said, however, that countries were free to adapt their testing guidance for their individual needs and that while testing itself was important, how fast countries are able to get results is equally critical.

WHO Emergency Programs Chief Mike Ryan said broad testing of the general population in most countries at this point is not that useful and can be a waste of resources. He said that the rate of testing should remain high, but what may be just as important is quick turnaround of testing results.

The advice from WHO officials comes days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention switched its guidance to say asymptomatic close contacts of cases don't need to be tested. The abrupt change in policy came as a shock to some health care professionals, who have suggested the new guidance has been politically motivated.

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