US President Donald Trump’s administration posted controversial recommendations on coronavirus testing to the website of the country’s health agency against the objections of its scientists, according to a New York Times report citing people familiar with the matter and internal documents.
The guidelines, which said testing was not necessary for people who were exposed to COVID-19 but not displaying symptoms, were criticised when they were issued last month.
That is because healthcare experts at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the time were pushing for more, not less, testing to help track and control the spread of the respiratory disease that has now killed almost 200,000 people in the country.
The reversal shocked doctors and politicians and prompted accusations of political interference. But Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – the CDC’s parent – said at the time the goal was “appropriate testing”, not more testing for its own sake, and that there had been no political pressure.
In Thursday’s report, a federal official told the Times that the guidelines came from the HHS and the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
“That policy does not reflect what many people at the CDC feel should be the policy,” the official said.
The Times said healthcare experts at the CDC had “serious objections” to the document, and noted that it contained “elementary errors” as well as recommendations “inconsistent” with the CDC’s advice, making it obvious it came from elsewhere, a senior scientist at the agency told the paper under condition of anonymity.
Guidance ‘dropped’ on CDC website
The Times said that at the time of the guidelines’ publication, administration officials had said the “document was a CDC product and had been revised with input from the agency’s director, Robert Redfield”.
However, the Times also reported that the HHS rewrote and then “dropped” the guidance into the CDC’s website, flouting the agency’s review process.
“The guidelines, coordinated in conjunction with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, received appropriate attention, consultation and input from task force experts,” Redfield said in a statement to the Reuters news agency.
A HHS spokeswoman told Reuters that guidance always receives input from medical and scientific experts on the task force.
A new version of the guidance, expected to be posted on Friday, has not been cleared by the CDC and is being revised by HHS officials, the Times reported, citing a federal official.