The White House Reportedly Pressured the CDC to Downplay COVID Risk in Schools

While children have shown a stronger immune response to the coronavirus, more than 600,000 kids in the U.S. have tested positive so far.
September 29, 2020, 1:46pm
AP Photo/John Minchillo

Senior White House officials including Dr. Deborah Birx leaned on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to play down the risk of sending children back to school during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the New York Times

In July, Birx reportedly emailed CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield, whose role has been remarkably scaled back during the pandemic, to ask him to include information about the long-term risks to mental health posed by school closures as well as lines such as, “very few reports of children being the primary source of Covid-19 transmission among family members have emerged.”

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While children have broadly shown a stronger immune response to the coronavirus, more than 600,000 children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19 this year, even with school closures for much of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A CDC report earlier this month also indicated that children with mild or no symptoms can spread the coronavirus. About 100 children and adolescents in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, the Washington Post reported last week.

CDC officials reportedly thought the document, compiled using information from an obscure agency called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, was riddled with errors, and they pushed back on it. Still, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s guidance on the mental health impacts ended up in the final CDC guidance released in July, with White House political officials including chief of staff Mark Meadows and aides Stephen Miller, Larry Kudlow, and Jared Kushner—all of whom have zero medical experience—essentially being given veto power over what was eventually published by the CDC, the Times reported.

Olivia Troye, a former aide to Vice President Mike Pence, was also asked several times by Pence chief of staff Marc Short to put pressure on the CDC to produce more data aligning with the White House’s position that schools should reopen. before one White House coronavirus task force briefing Troye, who said earlier this month that she would vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, asked the CDC for a “snazzy, easy-to-read document” on the low risk posed to children, the Times reported.

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The Times report sheds light on the monthslong fight between public health experts and the Trump White House over the coronavirus. Redfield and Dr. Anthony Fauci have both recently criticized Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in pandemics whose “herd immunity” position has gained him considerable influence in the White House response. 

While on a flight from Atlanta to Washington D.C., Redfield was overheard in a phone call saying that “everything [Atlas] says is false,” NBC News reported Monday. And after calling out “outlandish” coronavirus reporting on Fox News, Fauci publicly singled out Atlas as an “outlier” on the coronavirus task force during an interview with CNN Monday.

Asked if he was worried about Atlas sharing misleading information with Trump, Fauci responded, “I'm concerned that sometimes things are said that are really taken either out of context or actually incorrect.”

“Most are working together. I think, you know, what the outlier is,” Fauci said. “My difference is with Dr. Atlas, I’m always willing to sit down and talk with him and see if we could resolve those differences.”

Cover: In this Sept. 9, 2020, file photo, a student has their temperature taken as they arrive for classes at the Immaculate Conception School while observing COVID-19 prevention protocols in The Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)