The 17-page report was researched and written to help state and local officials, business owners, educators, and faith leaders.
The Trump administration shelved a document written by infectious disease experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention featuring scientific step-by-step guidance to local leaders on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public places, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
The 17-page report, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help state and local officials, business owners, educators, and faith leaders. The report, obtained by the AP, was set to be published last Friday, but agency scientists were advised that the guidance “would never see the light of day,” according to an anonymous CDC official.
The shelving of the report highlights the Trump administration’s continued sidelining of scientists and experts as President Trump and his allies pressure states to reopen the economy, in order to try to save the president’s imperiled bid for re-election. Trump has repeatedly ignored warnings from infectious disease experts like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx about the dangers of reopening too quickly and has instead encouraged governors to ignore his administration’s own guidelines as they lift restrictions.
In the past, the CDC has been a lead voice during public health crises, but Trump has largely relegated the agency to the backbench during the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC has not had a consistent, pandemic-related news briefing in nearly two months.
“CDC has always been the public health agency Americans turn to in a time of crisis,” Dr. Howard Koh, a Harvard professor and former health official in the Obama administration during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009, told the AP. “The standard in a crisis is to turn to them for the latest data and latest guidance and the latest press briefing. That has not occurred, and everyone sees that.”
The CDC report included detailed instructions on how and when to reopen schools, daycare centers, restaurants, bars, and summer camps, as well as guidance for mass transit administrators and employers with vulnerable workers. The document also detailed thorough safety instructions, advice on how to promote social distancing, and how to monitor and prepare for possible outbreaks of COVID-19. For example, the report advised schools to keep the same teachers with the same students all day for younger children and as much as possible for older children, in order to limit mixing among groups. It also advised schools to serve meals in the classrooms, shut down playgrounds, and cancel all field trips.
An anonymous source close to the White House’s coronavirus task force told the AP that the CDC documents were never approved by CDC leadership for public release. They also said that White House officials have resisted offering detailed instructions because the severity of the virus varies from region to region.
The New York Times also reported that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows expressed concern that the guidelines were “overly prescriptive,” and too uniform and regressive for areas with a smaller number of cases. The White House has asked the CDC to revise the guidelines, but agency officials aren’t confident it will be ever officially published.
Despite the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict such information sharing, the AP reports that CDC scientists are covertly working to provide guidance to local governments, who are otherwise largely fending for themselves. Trump has repeatedly tried to pass the buck for the pandemic’s devastating public health and economic impacts onto states and continues to assert that he has no role in the nation’s ongoing coronavirus testing and medical supply shortages.
“We are a backup,” Trump said of the federal government in April.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany reiterated this point at a briefing on Wednesday. “It’s [a] governor-led effort. It’s a state-led effort on … which the federal government will consult. And we do so each and every day,” McEnany said.
More than 35 states have begun to lift lockdown measures, even though by one measure, not a single state currently meets the safety criteria for reopening. Last month, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security outlined four criteria for phased reopenings:
- “The number of new cases has declined for at least 14 days;
- “Rapid diagnostic testing capacity is sufficient to test, at minimum, all people with COVID-19 symptoms, including mild cases, as well as close contacts and those in essential roles.
- “The healthcare system is able to safely care for all patients, including providing appropriate personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
- “There is sufficient public health capacity to conduct contact tracing for all new cases and their close contacts.”
Caitlin Rivers, one of the researchers who co-authored the Hopkins report, appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday and said that while some states have seen a decline in cases over 14 days, “there are no states that meet all four of those criteria.”
Rivers, like Fauci and Birx, also warned against states rushing to reopen, highlighting the devastating number of deaths it would cause.
“It is clear to me that we are in a critical moment in this fight,” Rivers said in her opening statement. “We risk complacency in accepting the preventable deaths of 2,000 Americans each day. We risk complacency in accepting that our healthcare workers do not have what they need to do their jobs safely. And we risk complacency in recognizing that without continued vigilance in slowing transmission, we will again create the conditions that led to us being the worst-affected country in the world.”
Despite Rivers’ warning and the growing death toll, which now sits at nearly 74,000, the Trump administration is moving full steam ahead to reopen, and appears to be doing so without giving scientists a seat at the table.