Sept. 18, 2020 — U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) officials wrote a controversial recommendation about COVID-19 testing that appeared on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website over the objections of CDC scientists, according to The New York Times.
The guidance — which was posted on Aug. 24 and widely criticized by experts — said it wasn’t necessary to test people without symptoms of COVID-19 even if they’d been exposed to the virus, and was posted on the CDC website when public health experts were urging more testing, not less.
The recommendation originated with the CDC and was revised with input from the agency’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield, according to Trump administration officials.
However, people familiar with the matter told the Times that HHS staff did the rewriting and then “dropped” the guidance into the CDC’s public website without first going through the agency’s scientific review process.
“That was a doc that came from the top down, from the HHS and the [White House] task force [on the coronavirus],” said an official with knowledge of the controversy. “That policy does not reflect what many people at the CDC feel should be the policy.”
It’s not clear why the recommendation on testing bypassed the usual CDC review, according to Adm. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration’s testing coordinator and an assistant secretary at the HHS, the CDC’s parent organization.
“I think you have to ask Dr. Redfield about that. That certainly was not any direction from me whatsoever,” he told the Times, which couldn’t reach Redfield for comment.
A new version of the testing guidance that’s expected to be posted Friday also hasn’t gone through CDC’s review process and is being revised by HHS officials, a federal official told the newspaper.
“The idea that someone at HHS would write guidelines and have it posted under the CDC banner is absolutely chilling,” Dr. Richard Besser, who served as acting director at the CDC in 2009, told the Times.
“HHS and the White House writing scientifically inaccurate statements such as ‘don’t test all contacts’ on CDC’s website is like someone vandalizing a national monument with graffiti,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director of the agency during the Obama administration, told the newspaper.
“Suggesting that asymptomatic people don’t need testing is just a prescription for community spread and further disease and death,” Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, told the Times.
It was recently revealed that Trump appointees at HHS interfered with the CDC’s weekly scientific reports on the coronavirus pandemic.