Emails show CDC chief cleared guidance shelved by White House: report

The decision not to disclose detailed advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on reopening the country during the coronavirus pandemic was made by top officials at the White House.

According to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press, top public health experts at the CDC worked for weeks crafting guidance to help grapple with the pandemic, but political appointees shelved the guidance. 

The files also showed that the Trump administration ordered parts of the guidance to be fast-tracked for approval after the AP began reporting on it this week.

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CDC Director Robert Redfield responded to the AP story in a statement shared by the White House on Saturday, saying the guidance had not been reviewed by other agencies and wasn't final.

“The re-opening guidance shared prematurely was in draft form and had not been vetted through the interagency review process," he said in the statement. "This is an iterative effort to ensure effective, clear guidance is presented to the American people. I had not seen a version of the guidance incorporating interagency and task force input and therefore was not yet comfortable releasing a final work product."

The guidance from the CDC was intended to help guide religious leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen amid a spike in business closures and unemployment claims. It reportedly includes flow charts meant to be used to consider alternate scenarios for reopening. 

When asked about the guidelines at a briefing Friday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that Redfield hadn’t approved them yet.

“Yeah, so I would ask you, you know, what's the definition of CDC guidelines? Is it something that the CDC director has actually seen? I would endeavor to say yes. Is it something that a rogue CDC employee leaks to you guys? No, those aren't CDC guidelines; those are guidelines in draft form that a rogue employee has given you for whatever personal reason they've decided to do that. Those guidelines are in the editing process,” she said.

Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response director, also said that the CDC’s guidance on reopening was in the editing process.

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"We're working with the CDC on a whole series of products, from how to improve community mitigation, what to do about contact tracing, how to improve surveillance, and certainly these more detailed guidelines about child care and camps. Those are still being worked on. No one has stopped those guidelines. We're still in editing," she told CNN Thursday night. 

However, the AP reported that the latest guidance had been approved and promoted by Redfield, who had sent the guidance documents to several top White House officials numerous times in April with the hopes of publishing them by May 1.

The guidance was shelved April 30, though CDC officials reportedly kept trying to convince officials to publish the documents.

However, when the AP first reported on the administration’s decision to shelve the guidance, the White House asked the CDC to refile some of its documents. 

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

Updated: May 9 at 10:05 a.m.