Reports suggest that the White House installed political operatives at the CDC to control coronavirus information and edited important documents.
President Donald Trump and his advisers took a more proactive role than previously known in shaping COVID-19 recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The White House began to take a more hands-on role after the February 25 briefing in which CDC official Nancy Messonnier warned that the virus's spread in the U.S. was inevitable. The president was reportedly angered as the stock market slid, and control of the federal response to the virus moved abruptly from the CDC to the White House and its coronavirus task force.
"White House advisers have made line-by-line edits to official health guidance, altering language written by CDC scientists on church choirs, social distancing in bars and restaurants as well as internal summaries of public-health reports, according to interviews with current and former agency and administration officials and their emails," reported the Wall Street Journal. It further reported that "in one previously unreported Oval Office meeting, the president and top White House officials in May pressed CDC Director Robert Redfield to declare houses of worship essential and allow them to reopen. Later, they pushed to strip certain language from the guidance, current and former administration officials said. Both efforts were successful."
Previously, when Ebola cases surfaced in the U.S. in 2014, the CDC directed the public-health response. It held 13 news briefings in one month and deployed thousands of staff globally to stop the virus. In contrast, the CDC didn’t hold a single news conference on the coronavirus pandemic in four separate months. White House officials routinely denied the agency’s requests to brief reporters, a former HHS official said.
Furthermore, the CDC also created some of its own problems. It rolled out botched COVID-19 tests in February. It accidentally posted a draft in September, updating guidance on how the coronavirus spreads. Trust in the agency has slid 16 points since April, to 67 percent, according to a poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation released September 10.
In the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, the White House installed two political operatives at the nation's top public health agency to control the information it releases about the pandemic as the administration seeks to paint a positive outlook, sometimes at odds with the scientific evidence, reported Associated Press. It further said the two appointees assigned to the CDC at Atlanta headquarters had backgrounds in public health.
Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with no medical or scientific background, was also appointed in April as the Health and Human Services department's new spokesperson. There have been substantial efforts to align the reports with Trump's statements, including the president's claims that fears about the outbreak are overstated, or stop the reports altogether.
Caputo and his team have attempted to add caution to the CDC's findings, including an effort to retroactively change agency reports that they said wrongly inflated the risks of COVID-19 and should have made clear that Americans sickened by the virus may have been infected because of their behavior, according to the individuals familiar with the situation and emails reviewed by Politico. Caputo's team also has tried to halt the release of some CDC reports, including delaying a report that addressed how doctors were prescribing hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug favored by Trump as a COVID-19 treatment despite scant evidence.
Trump administration officials reportedly began trying to influence the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports or the MMWRs in May, the CDC’s regular reports that are used by health experts and physicians around the country, especially during the pandemic, when the CDC was set to describe a “rapid acceleration” of cases and issue a warning about a potential forthcoming surge in transmission.
An analysis of a subcommittee on COVID-19 infection showed a pattern of political interference by the Trump administration in COVID-19 response. It stated that in eight months, officials had attacked and undermined public health experts in 47 instances. In September 2020, Democratic lawmakers launched an investigation into reports that Trump administration appointees tried to interfere with coronavirus reports from the CDC.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19 including symptoms, prevention and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organisation or your national healthcare authority.