CDC Virus Testing Guidance Was Posted Against Scientists’ Objections

A closely criticized advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention final month about who must be examined for the coronavirus was not written by C.D.C. scientists and was posted to the company’s web site regardless of their severe objections, in response to a number of folks aware of the matter in addition to inner paperwork obtained by The New York Times.

The steerage mentioned it was not mandatory to check folks with out signs of Covid-19 even when that they had been uncovered to the virus. It got here at a time when public well being consultants had been pushing for extra testing quite than much less, and administration officers informed The Times that the doc was a C.D.C. product and had been revised with enter from the company’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield.

But officers informed The Times this week that the Department of Health and Human Services did the rewriting after which “dropped” it into the C.D.C.’s public web site, flouting the company’s strict scientific evaluate course of.

“That was a doc that came from the top down, from the H.H.S. and the task force,” mentioned a federal official with information of the matter, referring to the White House job pressure on the coronavirus. “That policy does not reflect what many people at the C.D.C. feel should be the policy.”

The doc comprises “elementary errors” — resembling referring to “testing for Covid-19,” versus testing for the virus that causes it — and suggestions inconsistent with the C.D.C.’s stance that mark it to anybody within the know as not having been written by company scientists, in response to a senior C.D.C. scientist who spoke on the situation of anonymity due to a concern of repercussions.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration’s testing coordinator and an assistant secretary on the Department of Health and Human Services, the C.D.C.’s mum or dad group, mentioned in an interview Thursday that the unique draft got here from the C.D.C., however he “coordinated editing and input from the scientific and medical members of the task force.”

Over a interval of a month, he mentioned, the draft went by way of about 20 variations, with feedback from Dr. Redfield; high members of the White House job pressure, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx; and Dr. Scott Atlas, President Trump’s adviser on the coronavirus. The members additionally offered the doc to Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the duty pressure, Admiral Giroir mentioned.

He mentioned he didn’t know why the advice circumvented the same old C.D.C. scientific evaluate. “I think you have to ask Dr. Redfield about that. That certainly was not any direction from me whatsoever,” he mentioned.

The C.D.C. emailed a press release from Dr. Redfield on Thursday evening that mentioned: “The tips, coordinated at the side of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, obtained acceptable consideration, session and enter from job pressure consultants.

The query of the C.D.C.’s independence and effectiveness because the nation’s high public well being company has taken on growing urgency because the nation approaches 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic and Mr. Trump continues to criticize its scientists and disrespect their assessments.

A brand new model of the testing steerage, anticipated to be posted Friday, has additionally not been cleared by the C.D.C.’s typical inner evaluate for scientific paperwork and is being revised by officers at Health and Human Services, in response to a federal official who was not licensed to talk to reporters concerning the matter.

Similarly, a doc, arguing for “the importance of reopening schools,” was also dropped into the C.D.C. website by the Department of Health and Human Services in July and is sharply out of step with the C.D.C.’s usual neutral and scientific tone, the officials said.

The information comes mere days after revelations that political appointees at H.H.S. meddled with the C.D.C.’s vaunted weekly reports on scientific research.

“The idea that someone at H.H.S. would write guidelines and have it posted under the C.D.C. banner is absolutely chilling,” said Dr. Richard Besser, who served as acting director at the Centers for Disease Control in 2009.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the agency during the Obama administration, said, “H.H.S. and the White House writing scientifically inaccurate statements such as ‘don’t test all contacts’ on C.D.C.’s website is like someone vandalizing a national monument with graffiti.”

At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Dr. Redfield said the agency was revising the recommendation and would post the revision, “I hope before the end of the week.” The revision was written by a C.D.C. scientist but was being edited on Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House coronavirus task force, according to a federal official familiar with the matter.

Dr. Redfield also said at the Wednesday hearing that vaccines would not be widely distributed till next year and that face coverings were more effective than vaccines — assertions that Mr. Trump sharply criticized in a press briefing Wednesday evening, saying Dr. Redfield “made a mistake.”

The director has been described by C.D.C. employees and outsiders as a weak and ineffective leader who is unable to protect the agency from the administration’s meddling in its science or from the public’s increasing mistrust in the agency.

“It feels like a setup,” the C.D.C. scientist said, adding that many scientists within the agency feel it is being made to take the blame for the administration’s unpopular policies.

“C.D.C. scientists are running scared,” Scott Becker, chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said. “There’s nothing they can do that gets them out of this blame game.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also often been criticized during the pandemic, for being too slow and cautious in issuing recommendations for dealing with the coronavirus. That’s partly because every document is cleared by at least one individual on multiple relevant teams within the agency to ensure the information is consistent with the “current state of C.D.C. data, as well as other scientific literature,” according to a senior agency scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In all, each document may be cleared by 12 to 20 people within the agency. “As somebody who reads them regularly and as somebody who has written things with C.D.C., I can tell you that the clearance process is painful, but it’s useful,” said Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University. “It’s very detail oriented and very careful and they, quite frankly, improve the documents.”

At least eight versions of the current testing guidance were circulated within the agency in early August, according to officials. But staff scientists’ objections to the document went unheard. A senior C.D.C. official told the scientists, “We do not have the ability to make substantial edits,” according to an email obtained by The Times. The testing guidance was then quietly published on the agency’s website on Aug. 24.

After the new guidance was published, media inquiries to the agency about its contents were directed to the Department of Health and Human Services, prompting speculation about its origins. C.D.C. scientists were asked to make sure other pages on the website were consistent with the new recommendations. And a “talking points” memo circulated within the agency on Sept. 1 instructed employees to say that the C.D.C. was involved in developing the new guidance “with suggested comments and edits shared back with HHS and the White House Taskforce.”

That sort of instruction would not have been necessary had the document been written by the C.D.C. staff, according to experts familiar with the agency’s procedures. “Never seen that talking point before,” a C.D.C. scientist said.

The recommendation also asked people who “have attended a public or private gathering of more than 10 people (without widespread mask wearing or physical distancing)” to get tested only if they are “vulnerable.” The agency in fact recommends against people congregating in such groups, and its scientists avoid using the term “vulnerable” to describe at-risk groups, according to a C.D.C. scientist familiar with the agency’s procedures.

The guidance is also nested within the section intended for health care workers and labs, but addresses the general public and makes several references to “your health care provider.”

“We just looked so sloppy,” the scientist said. “That’s what kills me is it didn’t come from the inside.”

Experts who work closely with the C.D.C. said the mistakes were obvious.

“You’re used to reading Shakespeare and all of a sudden now you’re reading a tabloid,” Dr. del Rio said. “There was political pressure on C.D.C. in the past, but I think this is unprecedented.”

Sharon LaFraniere and Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

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