White House "shelved" CDC document warning of second wave of coronavirus infections: report

Experts say the guidance could have saved lives, but CDC officials were told it "would never see the light of day"

By Igor Derysh
May 14, 2020 2:46AM (UTC)
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White House | Virus (Getty Images/Salon)

The White House shelved a report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that not only recommended more restrictive reopening measures than its own coronavirus task force but also warned of a second wave of infections, according to The Associated Press.

The AP reported last week that the administration had buried the CDC's detailed reopening guidance in favor of its own "vague" plan. The leaked 63-page document reveals that the agency was more concerned about nonessential travel and a resurgence of cases than 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.


The White House, which released its "Opening Up America Plan" last month, included portions of the CDC recommendations. However, it explicitly said reopening decisions would be left up to states.

The CDC report, on the other hand, included detailed step-by-step instructions to "help Americans re-enter civic life," warning that steps would need to be taken if cases rise after reopening.

The White House said last week that the report was a draft that was not for public release even though the AP reported it was supposed to be published earlier this month. CDC Director Robert Redfield told a Senate committee Tuesday that a new draft would be released "soon."


Medical experts said the White House guidelines had failed to offer local leaders the specific information included in the CDC report.

"The White House is pushing for reopening, but the truth of the matter is the White House has just not had a comprehensive plan where all the pieces fit," Dr. Georges Benjamin, the head of the American Public Health Association, told the AP. "They're doing it piecemeal."

Local governments have been left without crucial details on how to proceed while the CDC revises its draft. 


"Many different places are considering how to safely develop return-to-work procedures," Dr. Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, told the outlet. "Having more guidance on that earlier on might have been more reassuring to people, and it might have prevented some cases."

The recommendations were ultimately rejected by the administration on April 30, according to the AP. Officials were told that the guidance "would never see the light of day," one CDC official told the outlet. 


Among the key differences between the CDC report and the White House guidelines was their approach to nonessential travel. The CDC advised against any nonessential travel until the last of the four phases of reopening. Even in the last phase, the CDC only advised "consideration" of resuming nonessential travel if an area had seen 42 consecutive days of a decline in cases of COVID-19.

"Travel patterns within and between jurisdictions will impact efforts to reduce community transmission too," the report said. "Coordination across state and local jurisdictions is critical — especially between jurisdictions with different mitigation needs."

The White House plan, however, urged the public "minimize" nonessential travel in the first phase of reopening and said "non-essential travel can resume" in the second phase. It also failed to provide leaders with guidelines on how to track positive cases after reopening, whereas the CDC document warned that cases would likely surge after reopening and urged leaders to regularly track the trends.


While the CDC plan included detailed instructions for leaders to use demographic data and how to track underserved populations, the White House plan vaguely urged leaders to "protect the health and safety of workers in critical industries" and "protect the most vulnerable" by developing "appropriate policies."

The Trump administration has increasingly found itself at odds with the CDC over the coronavirus response. Trump and Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, have pushed the agency to change how it counts coronavirus deaths on the belief that it is overcounting by including patients without confirmed cases and those who may not have died directly from the virus, according to The Daily Beast. However, officials at the agency have rejected that view.

"We're almost certainly underestimating the number of deaths," Bob Anderson, the head of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the agency's National Center for Health Statistics, told the outlet.


Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the task force, echoed those comments during his Tuesady testimony before the Senate.

"Most of us feel that the number of deaths are likely higher," Fauci said. "The number is likely higher. I don't know exactly what percent higher, but almost certainly, it's higher."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., attempted to pass a resolution calling for the release of the unpublished CDC report on Tuesday. However, a vote was blocked by Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.

"Anybody who would say drink bleach, use bleach to protect yourself is not much of a medical expert," Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor. "I wish President Trump and his aides could be trusted to tell the American people the truth about this public health crisis . . . The point is that America needs and must have the candid guidance of our best scientists unfiltered, unedited, uncensored by President Trump or his political minions."

Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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