The New York Times reported Thursday that a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation narrowing the scope of who should get tested for coronavirus was not written by CDC scientists, but “dropped” into the CDC’s public-facing website by the Department of Health and Human Services.
And The Washington Post recently revealed that this past spring, the US Postal Service and HHS were working on a plan to send masks to heavily infected areas and eventually nationwide. But the idea was reportedly nixed by the White House out of concern receiving masks could cause panic.
Whether it was purposeful or not, in both stories, agencies appeared to opt for more Trump-friendly strategies downplaying the urgency of the pandemic.
According to the Times, the CDC’s guidelines dropped in by HHS were published despite the objections of CDC scientists. And when they were made public, HHS did not subject the language to the CDC’s rigorous scientific review process. A federal official close to the process similarly told CNN last month the new directive came from the top down. A source also told CNN on Friday that the guidance was sent to the CDC by HHS.
CNN previously reported that the change was made on August 24, updating its recommendation for coronavirus testing “for all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection” to stating that some people without symptoms may not need to be tested, even if they’ve been in close contact with someone known to have coronavirus.
The change came after Trump said earlier in the summer that testing was a “double-edged sword” because, he argued, it showed more positive cases.
The President also said he wasn’t kidding when he told rallygoers he had asked staff to slow down testing. But federal health officials have maintained that they have not been told to slow down coronavirus testing.
On Friday, the CDC updated the testing guidance once again, rolling back HHS’ changes.
The updated guidance once again stresses that anyone who has been in contact with an infected person should be tested for coronavirus.
The USPS and HHS, according to the Post, had a plan this spring to begin distributing face masks nationwide by first targeting shipments to the hardest hit areas of the country.
The plan had gone so far that the USPS had drafted a press release for the distribution plan.
But the White House scrapped the plan, instead opting for an HHS program, Project America Strong, to distribute “reusable cotton face masks to critical infrastructure sectors, companies, healthcare facilities, and faith-based and community organizations across the country.”
One administration official told the Post: “There was concern from some in the White House Domestic Policy Council and the office of the vice president that households receiving masks might create concern or panic.”
“If those masks had gone out, and you look at the calculations, you model this on other countries, you see what has happened, and it seems like maybe 80% of the people who died could have been saved,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, told “New Day” in response to the Post’s report.
There was evidence by April, when the USPS had prepared for the mask distribution, that coronavirus could spread between asymptomatic individuals. That month, the administration recommended Americans wear cloth facial coverings.
Trump said at the time that the recommendations, which came after a week of heated deliberations inside the White House, were voluntary and that he would not partake.
The President has since worn a mask infrequently in public and, most recently, questioned their effectiveness.
This story has been updated to reflect new reporting.