After new reporting late Wednesday indicated that abrupt and what experts characterized as dangerously unsound changes to the CDC's Covid-19 testing guidelines were directed by the highest levels of the Trump administration, lawmakers demanded answers and sounded alarm bells over the White House's ongoing politicization of America's public health agencies.
CNN and Politico both reported Wednesday that top Trump administration officials were behind the CDC's decision to stop advising Covid-19 tests for all people who have potentially been exposed to the virus, which has infected nearly six million people and killed more than 179,000 in the United States.
"I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact it is."
—Dr. Anthony Fauci
The new guidelines, published on the CDC website Monday, state that people who have been in close contact with someone infected by Covid-19 "do not necessarily need a test" if they don't show symptoms. The CDC, led by Trump appointee Dr. Robert Redfield, did not present evidence justifying the changes.
Citing an anonymous federal health official close to the decision, CNN reported that the "sudden change in federal guidelines on coronavirus testing came this week as a result of pressure from the upper ranks of the Trump administration." CNN also first reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was undergoing surgery when the CDC guidance changes were discussed by the White House coronavirus task force.
"I was under general anesthesia in the operating room and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding the new testing recommendations," Fauci told CNN. "I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact it is."
Politico confirmed CNN's reporting on the White House officials' push for changes to the testing guidelines.
"Top Trump administration officials involved with the White House coronavirus task force ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Protection to stop promoting coronavirus testing for most people who have been exposed to the virus but aren't showing symptoms," according to Politico, which cited two unnamed people with knowledge of the process.
This is really explosive: both @CNN and @Politico are now reporting that high-ranking Trump officials put pressure on the CDC to downgrade recommendations for testing of contacts with significant coronavirus exposure. https://t.co/zRye4ACiJvhttps://t.co/hXbddsenBb pic.twitter.com/fEq7XJ7Hpe
— Adam W Gaffney (@awgaffney) August 26, 2020
In response to news of the central role top Trump administration officials played in directing the changes to CDC testing guidelines, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted that "we need answers."
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also responded to the revelations, saying that "the Trump administration doesn't have a plan to fight Covid-19 because it's too busy sabotaging any effort to combat the virus."
"As a result, it's choosing more infections, more deaths, and more economic pain," Wyden wrote.
Let's be clear – the Trump administration doesn't have a plan to fight COVID-19 because it’s too busy sabotaging any effort to combat the virus. As a result, it’s CHOOSING more infections, more deaths and more economic pain. https://t.co/VffKfpQs2g
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— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) August 26, 2020
"We should be shocked that public agencies that are supposed to be serving the public interest have been defiled to meet the president's political or personal goals."
—Deborah Burger, National Nurses United
"I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please,'" Trump said during a campaign rally in June. The president doubled down days later after his advisers insisted he was joking.
"I don't kid," Trump told reporters. "By having more tests, we find more cases."
Washington's Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee urged residents of his state to disregard the CDC's latest guidance, tweeting, "If you've been exposed to a confirmed case, get tested" and "remain in quarantine for 14 days after exposure even if you test negative."
"CDC's new guidance would cause Washington to miss thousands of new cases and allow the virus to spread in our communities," Inslee warned.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, also condemned the new guidelines.
"Let the doctors and scientists do their jobs. Lives are on the line," de Blasio tweeted. "Here in New York City we will follow the actual experts' guidelines, and not politically motivated directives."
Deborah Burger, RN, president of National Nurses United, said in a statement Wednesday that "as a nation, we should be shocked that public agencies that are supposed to be serving the public interest, whether it is regarding contagious disease epidemics, environmental protections, or workplace safety, have been defiled to meet the president's political or personal goals."
"The CDC, at the direction of the Trump Administration, is extending this malfeasance to all patients, and all individuals," Burger added.