Maine’s three largest health care systems say they won’t cut back on COVID-19 testing despite federal guidance last week that they may want to do so.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that people exposed to COVID-19 who don’t show symptoms need not be tested, although the agency later said it wasn’t barring testing of people in that situation, merely providing more guidance on when testing might not be needed.

But on Wednesday, the state’s leading health care systems – MaineHealth, Northern Light Health and Central Maine Healthcare – said they will abide by state guidelines on testing, which say that anyone with significant exposure to someone with COVID-19 should be tested, whether or not they experience symptoms.

The federal CDC also issued guidance suggesting that quarantines are no longer needed for travelers from overseas or those going from state to state, although it said travelers should follow state guidelines. Maine requires that visitors from all but five states quarantine for 14 days or get a negative COVID-19 test within a few days of arrival. Visitors from Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are exempt from the quarantine requirement.

President Trump has frequently criticized widespread testing for COVID-19, saying that more tests means there are more cases of the disease, and that the higher numbers make the country’s response to the pandemic “look bad.”

In August, the federal CDC appeared to agree, by saying that tests weren’t needed for those who may have been exposed to the disease but had no symptoms.


However, the agency did say that asymptomatic people should pay attention to what their health care provider or state health officials say, which provided an opening for Maine’s top public health official to weigh in.

“Let me be clear: We at the Maine CDC recommend you take one,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said a few days after federal officials changed the guidance on the CDC website. “We have no plans to change our protocol at this time.”

A drive-up COVID-19 testing facility is set up Wednesday at Northern Light Mercy Hospital’s Fore River Campus in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Shah said the country is still battling to get the pandemic under control and “you don’t stop the plows in the middle of the storm.”

Dr. Noah Nesin, chief medical officer for Penobscot Community Health Care, echoed Shah’s statement in an email to the staff, saying the organization isn’t changing its approach in response to the federal CDC’s guidance shift.

“We will keep plowing,” he said.

Nesin said the CDC’s recommended changes in testing protocols and quarantining “are not supported either by science or by our real-life practical experience.”


Northern Light Health held a news conference Wednesday morning to announce that it will continue to test those with significant exposure to anyone with COVID-19, and MaineHealth also said it believes there’s no need to change testing protocols that were in place before the federal CDC changed course last month.

Testing “is an effective and proven strategy for reducing and containing the spread of COVID-19,” said Clay Holtzman, a spokesman for MaineHealth.

Many people who have the coronavirus don’t show symptoms of the disease, he said, so MaineHealth will continue to test and follow guidance from the Maine CDC to try to identify those who have been infected.

The federal CDC’s change in direction on universal testing bewildered health care officials across the country, some of whom said they feared the change would increase public confusion and facilitate spread of the disease, The Washington Post reported.

The World Health Organization also spoke out against the U.S. policy change, saying that countries should actively test people to find coronavirus cases even if they don’t show symptoms.

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