Mar 15, 2021 - Health

CDC review: Trump administration's COVID-19 guidance downplayed certain risks

Photo of Donald Trump speaking and gesturing with one hand

Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A new review of Trump-era pandemic guidance found that several controversial recommendations were not "primarily authored" by staff or based on scientific evidence, according to a report posted on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website Monday.

Why it matters: Former President Trump repeatedly refused to acknowledge the severity of the pandemic throughout 2020, often downplaying the need to wear face masks or have states remain in lockdown.

Details: The review, which was ordered by President Biden's new CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, was intended to ensure that all of the CDC's existing guidance is "evidence-based and free of politics," according to Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director who conducted the review.

  • The review found that political appointees often ordered revisions to guidance and that the language of some guidance was not as strong as it could have been.
  • Some recommendations lacked transparency and scientific rationale, while others weren't updated based on new evidence, according to the review.
  • "[T]here was not a consistent practice of publicizing the supporting evidence in a scientific brief in conjunction with every major new guidance," Schuchat wrote.

Three documents were notably removed or replaced, either before or during the review.

  • One was part of Trump's push last April to reopen the country. It was released by the White House but with far less detail compared to the CDC's original draft.
  • The recommendations published in July emphasized the benefits of in-person learning and downplayed risks.
  • The third document faced backlash for stating that people without symptoms "don't necessarily need a test" even after close contact with confirmed cases.

What they're saying: "I am focused on moving CDC forward with science, transparency and clarity leading the way," Walensky said in a statement Monday.

  • "This agency and its critical health information cannot be vulnerable to undue influence, and this report helps outline our path to rebuilding confidence and ensuring the information that CDC shares with the American people is based on sound science that will keep us, our loved ones, and our communities healthy and safe."
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