A set of detailed documents created by the nation’s top disease investigators meant to give step-by-step advice to local leaders deciding when and how to reopen public places such as mass transit, day care centers and restaurants during the still-raging pandemic has been shelved by the Trump administration.
The 17-page report by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen.
It was supposed to be published last Friday, but agency scientists were told the guidance “would never see the light of day,” according to a CDC official. The official was not authorized to talk to reporters and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The AP obtained a copy from a second federal official who was not authorized to release it. The guidance was described in AP stories last week, prior to the White House decision to shelve it.
The Trump administration has been closely controlling the release of guidance and information during the pandemic spurred by a new coronavirus that scientists are still trying to understand, with the president himself leading freewheeling daily briefings until last week.
Traditionally, it’s been the CDC’s role to give the public and local officials guidance and science-based information during public health crises. During this one, however, the CDC has not had a regular, pandemic-related news briefing in nearly two months. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield has been a member of the White House coronavirus task force, but largely absent from public appearances.
The dearth of real-time, public information from the nation’s experts has struck many current and former government health officials as dangerous.
“CDC has always been the public health agency Americans turn to in a time of crisis,” said Dr. Howard Koh, a Harvard professor and former health official in the Obama administration during the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic in 2009. “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.”
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The Trump administration has instead sought to put the onus on states to handle COVID-19 response. This approach to managing the pandemic has been reflected in President Donald Trump’s public statements, from the assertion that he isn’t responsible for the country’s lackluster early testing efforts, to his description last week of the federal government’s role as a “supplier of last resort” for states in need of testing aid.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany echoed that at a briefing Wednesday. “We’ve consulted individually with states, but as I said, 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.”
The rejected reopening guidance was described by one of the federal officials as a touchstone document that was to be used as a blueprint for other groups inside the CDC who are creating the same type of instructional materials for other facilities.