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White House reportedly pushed CDC hard to fall in line on sending kids to school, sought alternate safety data

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began working in early summer on guidance for sending children back to school, and the White House then “spent weeks trying to press public health professionals to fall in line with President Trump’s election-year agenda of pushing to reopen schools and the economy as quickly as possible,” The New York Times reported Monday night, citing documents and interviews with current and former government officials.

This “strikingly political intervention in one of the most sensitive public health debates of the pandemic” included searching for “alternate data” that suggested children were at little or no risk from the coronavirus, the Times reports, and trying to swap in guidance from a little-known Health and Human Services Department agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

SAMHSA was focused on the emotional and mental health toll remote school could have on children, but CDC scientists found multiple problems with the agency’s assertion that COVID-19 posed a low health and transmission risk for children. That’s the language the White House was most interested in, though, and throughout the summer the CDC won some battles and lost others trying to keep it out of public guidance, the Times documents.

Olivia Troye, one of Vice President Mike Pence’s envoys on the White House coronavirus task force until leaving the administration in July, told the Times she regrets being “complicit” in the effort to pressure the CDC to make children look safer than the data supported. She said when she tried to shield the CDC, Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, charged “more junior staff” to “develop charts” for White House briefings.

In early July, several prominent medical groups, including the American Association of Pediatrics, advised sending kids back to school with stringent safety measures, in part because the