The White House said it was following health experts’ advice. Then we learned it isn’t approving a key CDC document.

Diseases & Conditions | CDC

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany made a point at the start of Wednesday’s news briefing to emphasize that President Trump is following health experts’ advice as we enter what Trump has labeled the “next stage” of the coronavirus response — reopening the economy.

“As you are well aware, President Trump has consistently sided with the experts and always prioritized the health and safety of the American people,” McEnany said.

Several hours later, we got another example of the White House resisting what those health experts are advising.

The Associated Press reported around midnight that the White House had shelved planned guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The document, which was due nearly a week ago, was aimed at providing local authorities with step-by-step guidance on how to reopen:

The 17-page report by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen.
It was supposed to be published last Friday, but agency scientists were told the guidance “would never see the light of day,” according to a CDC official. The official was not authorized to talk to reporters and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

A coronavirus task force official told The Washington Post that the document has not been completely shelved but was in the process of being revised because it was “overly specific.” The official also indicated that it was felt the document was too broad, as “guidance in rural Tennessee shouldn’t be the same guidance for urban New York City.”

The denial, though, reinforces that the White House is reluctant to submit to the CDC’s more detailed prescriptions for reopening the economy. And it’s difficult to divorce the delay in this document’s publication from Trump’s anxiety to reopen the economy — and the tension that has created with past guidelines.

The administration in mid-April issued phased advice on when areas should start to reopen places such as restaurants and other nonessential businesses. But many states have moved forward with certain elements of reopening without actually satisfying those guidelines. Most notably, they have begun to reopen without meeting the Phase One guideline that they should see a decrease in confirmed coronavirus cases over a 14-day period.

As The Post’s Philip Bump reported, some states that have pushed forward with reopening have also seen an increase in cases — which would prevent them from satisfying the requirement for moving into Phase Two. That requirement is that the decline should continue for another 14 days after Phase One begins.

Issuing a detailed document would seemingly complicate further reopenings, because it would again restrict what states and local authorities are supposed to do.

The Washington Post’s Lena H. Sun and Josh Dawsey previewed what the document was set to look like last week. And they also obtained a draft of the document. The new guidelines were to go beyond the initial ones in prescribing specific actions that could be taken in each phase of the reopening. Advocates for reopening have worried that strict guidance could make it difficult for businesses, churches, child-care centers and other facilities to actually function.

Trump, who has long signaled a desire to begin reopening that economy sooner rather than later, has doubled down on that rhetoric in recent days. Despite a steady national death rate that approached previous highs on Tuesday and Wednesday, and even though cases continue to increase outside the major U.S. hotbed of New York City, Trump on Tuesday signaled that we are entering the “next stage” of reopening the economy.

“Thanks to the profound commitment of our citizens, we’ve flattened the curve, and countless American lives have been saved,” Trump said. “Our country is now in the next stage of the battle: a very safe phased and gradual reopening. So, reopening of our country — who would have ever thought we were going to be saying that? A reopening. Reopening.”

Trump has been resistant to the advice of the health officials around him, from the early days of the outbreak when he continuously downplayed the severity of the situation. On several occasions, this tension has boiled over.

We’re also hearing from those officials less and less. The CDC long ago ceased holding briefings on the coronavirus outbreak, and the White House coronavirus task force briefings, which often featured health experts Anthony S. Fauci and Deborah Birx, have now been halted in favor of less-frequent and less-coronavirus-focused briefings from McEnany. Fauci has also been prevented from testifying to the Democratic-controlled House, although he is still slated to testify in the GOP-controlled Senate and has continued doing some interviews. The cumulative effect is that these health experts aren’t on the record as much as the effort to reopen the economy begins in earnest.

In the place of those public comments, the CDC guidelines were to provide firm and detailed advice from those officials for the new stage. But for reasons that seem pretty conspicuous, we still don’t have them.




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