CDC

White House pressured CDC on reopening schools, report says

Washington — Top White House officials over the summer pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to downplay the risk of the coronavirus among young people and encourage the reopening of schools, according to a former CDC official who was at the agency at the time.

The New York Times first reported that White House officials, including officials in Vice President Mike Pence’s office and Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, were involved in trying to circumvent the CDC to promote data that showed the spread of the virus was slowing. The former CDC official told CBS News that the information in the Times report was accurate.

Olivia Troye, a former member of Pence’s staff, told the Times that she was repeatedly asked by Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, to produce more data showing a decline in cases in young people.

The Times also reported that Birx pushed the CDC to include data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency inside the Department of Health and Human Services, which said that extended school closures could affect children’s mental health and argued that transmission of the virus among family members was low. The Times obtained an email from Birx to CDC Director Robert Redfield asking him to incorporate the document as “background” in CDC guidance for reopening schools.

President Trump over the summer repeatedly argued that schools should be reopened for in-person learning. At an event in July, he said “we want to get them open quickly, beautifully, in the fall.”

Another former CDC official involved in writing the guidelines told CBS News that Birx was influential in shaping the message surrounding schools reopening, and pushed to focus on the risk factors involved for kids if they stayed

Former Pence Adviser ‘Appalled’ At Pressure White House Placed On CDC To Open Schools

KEY POINTS

  • New reports said the CDC faced pressure from the White House to downplay the coronavirus’ threat toward younger people
  • Former Pence adviser Olivia Troye said this was to help President Trump’s chances of reelection
  • She said some White House staff were told to go around the CDC to find information supporting Trump’s narrative about the pandemic

A former adviser for Vice President Mike Pence said reports were accurate that the White House pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to encourage schools to reopen and downplay the threat coronavirus posed to children.

Olivia Troye said these efforts were meant to improve President Donald Trump’s chances of reelection in the November general elections.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. has 7.16 million confirmed cases and over 205,000 reported deaths from coronavirus.

“Unfortunately, this was an effort, you know, at times where I would get blindsided, where there would be junior staffers being tasked to find different data for charts to show that the virus wasn’t as bad for certain populations, ages or demographics,” Troye told CNN on Tuesday.

“I think you’ve seen from the beginning the President’s narrative has been ‘everything’s fine. Everything’s OK. Time to get back to normal. Let’s get the economy going again.’”

Troye’s comments come nearly two weeks after she endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and said she planned to vote for him in November.

The New York Times released its report on the mounting pressure on Monday as well, describing the efforts White House staff to encourage reopening.

The Times said several members of the coronavirus task force, including Dr. Deborah Birx, and Pence’s staff routinely asked CDC officials to produce reports showing coronavirus was declining among younger populations. In some cases, Pence had his chief of staff, Marc Short, and junior staff

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

Behind the White House Effort to Pressure the C.D.C. on School Openings

WASHINGTON — Top White House officials pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this summer to play down the risk of sending children back to school, a strikingly political intervention in one of the most sensitive public health debates of the pandemic, according to documents and interviews with current and former government officials.

As part of their behind-the-scenes effort, White House officials also tried to circumvent the C.D.C. in a search for alternate data showing that the pandemic was weakening and posed little danger to children.

The documents and interviews show how the White House 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 president and his team have remained defiant in their demand for schools to get back to normal, even as coronavirus cases have once again ticked up, in some cases linked to school and college reopenings.

The effort included Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, and officials working for Vice President Mike Pence, who led the task force. It left officials at the C.D.C., long considered the world’s premier public health agency, alarmed at the degree of pressure from the White House.

One member of Mr. Pence’s staff said she was repeatedly asked by Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, to get the C.D.C. to produce more reports and charts showing a decline in coronavirus cases among young people.

The staff member, Olivia Troye, one of Mr. Pence’s top aides on the task force, said she regretted being “complicit” in the effort. But she said she tried as much as possible to shield the C.D.C. from the White House pressure, which she saw as driven by the president’s determination

‘Everything’ White House Task Force Adviser Who Sided With Trump Over Masks Says ‘Is False,” CDC Director Tells Colleague

Members of the White House’s coronavirus task force don’t always see eye to eye, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), isn’t keen on comments the newest addition has been making.



Robert R. Redfield wearing glasses and looking at the camera: CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield, testifies during a US Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine Covid-19, focusing on an update on the federal response in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. On Friday, Redfield told a colleague during a phone call that "everything" Dr. Scott Atlas says "is false."


© Alex Edelman/ POOL/AFP/Getty
CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield, testifies during a US Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine Covid-19, focusing on an update on the federal response in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. On Friday, Redfield told a colleague during a phone call that “everything” Dr. Scott Atlas says “is false.”

Redfield, who has been a member of the task force since its inception, told a colleague during a September 25 phone call that “everything” Dr. Scott Atlas says “is false.” Atlas was added to the task force in August, and Redfield warned a colleague during the phone conversation, which was overheard by NBC News, that he was misleading President Donald Trump with data about mask efficacy, herd immunity benefits and who is at risk.

Atlas contradicted Redfield’s sworn testimony last Wednesday that the data shows more than 90 percent of the U.S. population is still susceptible to the new coronavirus. Atlas said during a briefing that same day that Redfield “misstated something” and added that the CDC’s state-by-state data “is old.” Atlas also said immunity to the infection is not “solely determined by the percentage of people who have antibodies” but also by cross-immunity from other infections.

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“So the answer is no, it is not 90 percent of people that are susceptible to the infection,” Atlas said, adding that people are “supposed to believe the science and I’m telling you the science.”

Redfield and Atlas also broke on the usage of masks.