Trump rejects CDC’s coronavirus guidelines for reopening US calling it 'overly prescriptive'

A CDC spokesman said that the guidance was still under discussion with the White House, and a revised version could be published soon

                            Trump rejects CDC’s coronavirus guidelines for reopening US calling it 'overly prescriptive'
(Getty Images)

Detailed guidelines for reopening America, drafted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have been buried by the Trump administration for being extremely specific and overly prescriptive. According to some reports, it is currently being revised. 

While the White House had previously released a three-phase reopening plan for the US amid the coronavirus pandemic, it did not list specific details. Moreover, US President Donald Trump has largely allowed state governors to make their own decisions about reopening. The plan, released by him, puts the onus on governors to decide how to restart the economies in their states. But as states look at opening up the economy again, many are concerned about whether it is safe to do so, and how it can be done. Accordingly, CDC’s 17-page draft advisory listed step-by-step guidelines for schools, child care programs, faith communities, restaurants and bars, and mass transit administrators, to help each of these sectors safely reopen across states.

“It (CDC guidance) 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 (AP) on the condition of anonymity,” reports AP. According to the article, a person close to the White House’s coronavirus taskforce said the CDC documents were never cleared by CDC leadership for public release. 

A CDC spokesman told the New York Times that the guidance was still under discussion with the White House and a revised version could be published soon. “White House and other administration officials rejected the recommendations over concerns that they were overly prescriptive, infringed on religious rights and risked further damaging an economy that Trump was banking on to recover quickly.” says the report.  

Dr Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus taskforce, told CNN that the administration was still in the editing process. “We’re working with the CDC on a whole series of products. Those are still being worked on. No one has stopped those guidelines. We're still in editing,” she said. Dr Birx said that the decision was made not to implement the recommendation because the editing process had not been completed. “It was more about simplification to make sure to make sure that American people, as well as public health officials, understand the guidelines,” she said.

In a statement to Newsweek, a White House spokesperson said: “On April 16, President Trump released guidelines for opening America up again. Those guidelines made clear that each state should open up in a safe and responsible way based on the data and response efforts in those individual states.” The spokesperson further said, “Issuing overly specific instructions, that CDC leadership never cleared, for how various types of businesses open up would be overly prescriptive and broad for the various circumstances states are experiencing throughout the country. Guidance in rural Tennessee shouldn't be the same guidance for urban New York City.” 

The step-by-step CDC guidance aimed at helping schools, child care programs, faith communities, restaurants and bars, and mass transit administrators. (Getty Images)

While individual states oversee their public health departments, provision of healthcare, and implement policies and programs, the CDC has always provided scientific information, intellectual leadership, technical expertise, and expert guidance that states rely on to do their work, especially during a crisis. But since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the CDC’s role appears to have been diminished. CDC Director Dr Robert Redfield is a member of the White House coronavirus taskforce, but he has maintained a low profile and has been largely absent from public appearances.

“CDC has always been the public health agency Americans turn to in a time of crisis. 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,” AP quotes Dr Howard Koh, a Harvard professor and former health official in the Obama administration during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

The CDC has always been the public health agency Americans turn to in a time of crisis, according to an expert. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, in the draft guidelines, CDC had recommended face masks for all teachers, desks placed six feet apart, ad staggered pick-up and drop off times at schools, among others, for the phase-wise reopening of schools in the US. The interim draft guidance for communities of faith recommended restricting gatherings to those that can be held virtually (by remote viewing) for vulnerable populations and video streaming or drive-in options for services during the first and second phases. In the third phase, it called for limiting gatherings to those that can maintain social distancing and considering video streaming or drive-in options for vulnerable populations.

Again, for bars and restaurants, the health experts suggested that bars should remain closed and restaurant service should remain limited to the drive-through, curbside take out, or delivery with strict social distancing during the first phase. In phase 2, bars may open with limited capacity, and restaurants may open dining rooms with limited seating capacity that allows for social distancing. In the third phase, bars may open with increased standing room occupancy that allows for social distancing, while restaurants may operate while maintaining social distancing, said the guidance.

“States and local health departments do need guidance on a lot of the challenges around the decision to reopen. You can say that restaurants can open and you need to follow social distancing guidelines. But restaurants want to know, ‘What does that look like?’” Dr Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told AP.

“You have the greatest fighting force against infectious diseases in world history. Why would you not use them?” questioned Dr Howard Markel, a public health historian at the University of Michigan, reports AP.

As of May 8, more than 1,256,970 coronavirus cases have been reported in the US, and 75,670 have died in the COVID-19 pandemic, acording to the Johns Hopkins tracker.

For more information and statistics on the coronavirus pandemic, click on the Newsbreak tracker here