U.S. lawmakers say Trump appointees interfered with COVID-19 testing guidance

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U.S. President Trump holds a campaign rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport in Sanford, Florida

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Political appointees in former U.S. President Donald Trump's administration interfered with public health guidance on the coronavirus to justify reopening schools and businesses, congressional Democrats said on Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in August that people who were exposed to COVID-19 but were not symptomatic did not need to be tested for the virus. That was a reversal of previously issued guidance that all close contacts of people diagnosed with the highly contagious illness be tested.

A majority of states rejected that guidance, continuing to recommend testing for individuals without symptoms who had been exposed to COVID-19. The CDC has since changed the August advice, saying on its website that people can spread the virus without showing symptoms, something health experts had been saying long before the agency's controversial about-face.

The Trump administration weakened testing guidance in August "in order to hide evidence the virus was spreading rapidly among asymptomatic people," James Clyburn, chairman of the House of Representatives' Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis wrote in letters to the White House chief of staff and acting secretary of the Health and Human Services Department (HHS).

The letters cited emails from Trump administration officials. In one email, a science adviser for HHS wrote: "Testing asymptomatic people to seek asymptomatic cases is not the point of testing, for in the end, all this accomplishes is we end up quarantining asymptomatic, low risk people and preventing the workforce from working."

Clyburn is asking for a number of documents related to public health guidance, testing, data collection, treatments and vaccines and other matters.

Spokespeople for the White House and the HHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The coronavirus has infected more than 27 million people in the United States and claimed over 463,000 lives.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Bill Berkrot)