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 two former CDC officials who were at the agency at the time.
The New York Times first reported that White House officials, including aides 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 officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CBS News that the information in the Times report was accurate.
Olivia Troye, a former adviser to Pence who worked on the White House coronavirus task force, 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. Troye left the White House in August and has since become aof the president and the administration’s coronavirus response.
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.”