In a recent interview with CNN, several CDC officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity revealed that they believe the White House has prioritized politics over science in dealing with the pandemic.
"We've been muzzled," a current CDC official revealed. "What's tough is that if we would have acted earlier on what we knew and recommended, we would have saved lives and money."
The officials also said that the CDC had planned on publishing a global travel alert on March 5. Although the document was cleared internally for publication at that time, it wasn’t posted until March 11, the same day that US President Donald Trump announced that travel would be restricted from more than two dozen European countries. The exact reason for the delay of the alert’s publication is unclear.
A senior CDC official also said that even though the agency warned the White House about the virus’s quick spread across Europe, “the White House was extremely focused on China and not wanting to anger Europe ... even though that's where most of our cases were originally coming from."
The CDC guidance, shelved by the Trump administration, included information on how states could decide whether to close down facilities during possible future COVID-19 outbreaks and how to contain the virus while reopening the economy. In addition, while the White House guidelines suggest that nonessential travel can start as early as Phase 2 of reopening, the CDC recommends that nonessential travel start only in Phase 3, and even then advises caution.
"If you look at our guidance documents online, they have been watered down a lot," a current CDC official said. "The ones that were written in March say, 'Go home and stay there,' and they are very clear. And the ones now say, 'in consultation with state and local governors, do what they say.'"
“We normally give guidance, and then states take that guidance and turn it into policy,” the official added.
Another CDC employee expressed concern that the agency’s scientific work is becoming overshadowed by politics.
"The message we received in previous administrations was, you guys are the scientists," the employee said. "That's not the case this time. If the science that we are offering up contradicts a specific policy goal, then we are the problem."