CDC director says guidance shelved by White House was 'in draft form'

The director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said his agency's guidance for reopening the country was "in draft form" and not ready to be released in the midst of reports that top administration officials decided to shelve the CDC’s recommendations.

"The re-opening guidance shared prematurely was in draft form and had not been vetted through the interagency review process," CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement circulated by the White House. "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," he added.

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The remarks came after reports emerged that top officials at the White House made the decision not to disclose detailed advice from the CDC on reopening the country during the coronavirus pandemic.

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 flowcharts meant to be used to consider alternate scenarios for reopening in an attempt to prevent a spike in coronavirus cases as restrictions are relaxed. 

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 and had in fact obtained approval from Redfield, who had sent the documents up the chain to top officials. However, political appointees reportedly decided the shelve the guidance.

The AP also found that the White House asked the CDC to refile some of its documents and fast-tracked them for publication after reports first emerged on the administration’s decision to shelve the guidance.

The White House spent Thursday and Friday playing defense over the story, repeatedly saying the guidance was not ready for public consumption.

"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," Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response director, told CNN on Thursday night.  

"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," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany added Friday.