White House Turned Away CDC Plan for Reopening Country

President Donald Trump listens during an April coronavirus briefing at the White House. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(CN) — The Trump administration rejected a plan by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offering advice to local authorities on how they can safely reopen schools, workplaces and other establishments, saying it was too restrictive for places with few coronavirus cases.

A draft report of the CDC guidelines, obtained by The New York Times, includes step-by-step advice for schools and day camps, churches, employers, restaurants and bars, and mass transit organizations.

It was scheduled to come out last Friday but was held because federal White House officials feared the guidance was “overly prescriptive” and imposed too many restrictions on parts of the country that haven’t seen as many Covid-19 cases, according to the Times.

Lee Riley, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California Berkeley, said in an interview Thursday that he could see why the Trump administration said it was “overly prescriptive” but that the document is not unusual for CDC guidelines. 

Among other things, the report suggests working in compliance with state and city orders, protecting those at higher risk for the illness and continuing to offer those in high-transmission areas the option to work from home “as feasible to eliminate travel to childcare programs in lower transmission areas and vice versa.”

“There are many guidelines for all types of health-related issues that the CDC provides for the public and health agencies,” Lee explained, noting that the agency also works closely with the World Health Organization during pandemics. 

“They did that during the Zika epidemic in the Americas,” he continued. “These guidelines are meant to serve as exactly that – guidelines – and not as directives. This way, the general public, businesses, health departments, faith communities, schools and state leadership can use them as a reference to come up with their own guidelines that may be more appropriate and less ‘prescriptive’ for their own region and situation.”

While the CDC has traditionally been in charge of offering science-based guidance to public and local officials during public health crises, the agency’s scientists say they were told this report would never be published, according to sources who spoke to the Times and the Associated Press.

Notably, the CDC has not held a news briefing on the pandemic in several months as President Donald Trump has taken to controlling the release of information on the outbreak, holding daily briefings until a week ago and giving governors the power to reopen their states at their own discretion.

According to Lee, the CDC should be commended for the difficult task of putting the guidelines together and the recommendations might be able to help the public, even if the federal government hasn’t endorsed them.

“It’s always a good idea to have a comprehensive set of guidelines than to come up with something so narrow that it may not serve its intended purpose,” the professor said. “I think many organizations can now use these guidelines as a reference or starting point to devise their own set of guidelines to ease social distancing.”

The White House released a three-phase plan last month called “Opening Up America Again” that pushed adhering “to state and local guidance as well as complementary CDC guidance, particularly with respect to face coverings.”

CDC and White House spokespersons did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

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