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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly removed new guidance saying that the coronavirus spreads via aerosols from its website yesterday, drawing a fresh barrage of criticism.

The big picture: Concerns about the CDC's competence and politicization have only grown as the pandemic rages on.

Driving the news: The agency posted in a note on its website saying the guidance that acknowledged airborne transmission was only a draft, and had been published in error.

  • The update came months after scientists pushed for the agency to acknowledge the disease can spread through the air.
  • "CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted," the website now states.

Between the lines: The agency only last week reversed controversial guidance that said asymptomatic people don't need to be tested for the virus, after the New York Times reported that the guidance wasn't written by CDC scientists and was posted over their objections.

  • And on Friday, the NYT reported that two former top Health and Human Services officials "tried to browbeat career officials at the C.D.C. at the height of the pandemic, challenging the science behind their public statements and trying to silence agency staff."
  • Criticism of the agency began right at the onset of the pandemic, when it produced a faulty diagnostic test that ultimately prevented the U.S. from catching the spread of the virus early on.

My thought bubble: The CDC is one of many institutions on the receiving end of scathing criticism for its handling of the pandemic. But it's a jarring about-face for an agency once globally admired and generally considered immune from political interference.

What they're saying: “The consistent inconsistency in this administration’s guidance on COVID-19 has severely compromised the nation’s trust in our public health agencies," said Howard Koh, a top health official in the Obama administration, in a statement.

  • "During the greatest public health emergency in a century, trust in public health is essential – without it, this pandemic could go on indefinitely."

The other side: “As with any HHS agency, we expect the CDC to lead with science and data and communicate transparently and accurately with the American people," said an HHS spokesperson.

Go deeper

Updated Dec 31, 2020 - Health

California reports first case of new coronavirus variant

Healthcare workers treating a patient in UCLA Medical Center in Torrence, California, on Dec. 29. Photo: Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California reported its first case of a new variant of the coronavirus that may be more transmissible, AP reports.

The big picture: California is the second state to document a confirmed case of the variant — which originated in the United Kingdom — after Colorado reported the first case in the United States on Tuesday.

1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Jen Psaki: "With that I’d love to take your questions”

In her inaugural briefing as White House press secretary, Jen Psaki said she has a “deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy,” and pledged to hold daily briefings.

Why it matters: Conferences with the press secretary in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room became almost non-existent under the Trump administration. By sending Psaki to the podium hours after President Biden took the oath of office, the White House signaled a return to pre-Trump norms.

Avril Haines confirmed as director of national intelligence

Haines. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Image

Avril Haines was quickly confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday as the director of national intelligence (DNI) in a vote of 84-10.

Why it matters: Haines is the first of President Biden's nominees to receive a full Senate confirmation and she will be the first woman to serve as DNI. She's previously served as CIA deputy director from 2013 to 2015 and deputy national security adviser from 2015 to 2017.