The C.D.C. Waited ‘Its Entire Existence for This Moment.’ What Went Wrong?

The C.D.C. Waited ‘Its Entire Existence for This Moment.’ What Went Wrong?


To the president’s aides, one of the most frustrating moments came on May 1, when Dr. Schuchat published one of the agency’s regular reports on morbidity and mortality without giving the White House any notice, according to two of Mr. Trump’s advisers.

Written in dry, scientific language, the report offered a blunt assessment of the virus’s spread, showing how travel from Europe and mass gatherings had accelerated it. Dr. Schuchat went further when interviewed for an Associated Press article — “Health Official Says U.S. Missed Some Chances to Slow Virus” — saying that “taking action earlier could have delayed further amplification.”

As the president pushed governors to “liberate” their states from virus lockdowns, top C.D.C. officials in April delivered a draft of new guidance full of caveats about lifting the restrictions. In it, the agency urged schools, churches, child care centers, day camps, restaurants and bars to take numerous precautions and move slowly.

Trump aides were furious when they saw the draft. To them, it was more evidence that the C.D.C. refused to consider political, economic and social effects in weighing how and when to reopen the country. The agency’s recommendations for houses of worship, particularly annoyed some aides, who resisted the advice that churches stop giving communion.

When the White House sat on the draft guidance for weeks, a copy was leaked.

While the C.D.C. delayed posting the draft guidance that would allow churches to reopen, Mr. Trump all but ordered it to do so. During a visit to Michigan on May 21, the president — who the next day would explain, “In America, we need more prayer, not less” — made it clear the C.D.C. no longer had any choice.

“I said, ‘You better put it out,’” Mr. Trump told reporters. “And they’re doing it.”

Lawrence Gostin, the director of a legal center at the World Health Organization, and a former C.D.C. official, chided the White House for exerting undue pressure on the C.D.C. throughout the crisis.



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