- On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly made a massive change to its coronavirus testing recommendations.
- Its new guidance states that asymptomatic individuals who have knowingly had extended contact with infected persons may not necessarily need to get tested.
- The change elicited mass confusion and criticism from health experts who noted that the CDC has warned about the dangers of asymptomatic spread for months.
- Brett Giroir, U.S. assistant secretary for health, denied accusations that the White House had ordered the changes and affirmed that Dr. Anthony Fauci had signed off on the change.
- Dr. Fauci later denied Giroir’s claim, saying he did not approve any changes because he was in surgery when the new guidance was discussed.
CDC Changes Testing Recommendation
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently embroiled in a bitter battle between health experts and government officials after narrowing its coronavirus testing recommendations to exclude most asymptomatic people, even if they’ve had known contact with an infected person.
That guidance was quietly changed Monday but later elicited sharp criticism, including from Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the lead members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“If you have been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes but do not have symptoms,” the CDC guidelines now read, “you do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or State or local public health officials recommend you take one.”
“It is important to realize that you can be infected and spread the virus but feel well and have no symptoms,” the CDC also notes.
The updated guidance comes despite the fact that, for months, the CDC has recommended people should get tested for COVID-19 if they have had close contact with a known infected individual, even if they are not showing symptoms.
It also comes despite the fact the CDC has emphasized that asymptomatic cases play a major role in COVID-19 infections. In fact, last month, the CDC said it believes up to 40% of infected individuals are asymptomatic.
According to Axios, “some models suggest nearly half of transmission events can be traced back to when individuals were still pre-symptomatic.”
When asked about why this change was made, Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health & Human Services, said in a statement: “This Guidance has been updated to reflect current evidence and best public health practices, and to further emphasize using CDC-approved prevention strategies to protect yourself, your family, and the most vulnerable of all ages.”
“Through continuously evaluating the data we know we have strong, proven preventive measures for reducing the spread of COVID-19: wearing a face mask, watching your distance, washing your hands and avoid large gatherings and crowded indoor spaces.”
Doctors Sound Alarms
Many health experts were quick to point out that the change seemed contradictory to the currently understood mode of transmission for COVID-19, as well as the CDC’s previous guidance.
“Testing those [who] have possibly been exposed to someone with COVID is an important part of contact tracing to help identify and reduce spread,” Fred Davis, a New York doctor, told Fox News. “When we have the resources to test, we should be testing those with known exposure to help identify and recommend proper quarantine.”
Infectious disease expert Dr. Ravina Kullar also expressed concern, telling Fox News:
“I am not sure if these recommendations were based on the labs being overwhelmed or a desire to make the case numbers look better; regardless, I am stunned by these recommendations.”
As doctors search for answers, others have accused the White House of either directing or pressuring the change. According to CNN, a federal official said pressure came from the “top down.” Similarly, The New York Times cited two federal health officials who said the guidelines were part of a White House directive.
Those allegations follow repeated instances of President Donald Trump criticizing the country’s level of coronavirus testing.
“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people,” Trump said at a June rally. “You’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’ They test and they test. We got tests that people don’t know what’s going on.”
Giroir told reporters Wednesday that he doesn’t actually expect the volume of tests to decrease even with these new guidelines. He also denied allegations that the White House had ordered the CDC to narrow its guidelines, though he did say that it was approved by the White House last week.
In that press conference, Girior was asked if Fauci specifically approved the change, to which he affirmed that Fauci had.
“Yes, all the docs signed off on this before it even got to the task force level.” Giroir said. “We worked on this all together to make sure that there was absolute consensus that reflected the best possible evidence, and the best public health for the American people.”
“I worked on them. Dr. Fauci worked on them. Dr. [Deborah] Birx worked on them. Dr. [Stephen] Hahn worked on them.”
However, according to Fauci, that is not true. In fact, in an interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta on Wednesday, Fauci said he hadn’t even been at that meeting when the changes were made because he was undergoing surgery.
“I was under general anesthesia in the operating room and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding the new testing recommendations,” Fauci said.
“I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact it is.”
Governors Condemn Changes and Increase Testing
Along with medical experts, the governors of at least two states have said they will refuse to follow the new guidelines.
“I don’t agree with the new CDC guidance period, full stop,” California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) said, “and it’s not the policy in the state of California. We will not be influenced by that change. We’re influenced by those that are experts in the field that feel very differently.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) similarly slammed the change by condemning it as “political propaganda” and said the New York Department of Health would not follow it.
“Shame on the people at the CDC,” Cuomo said.
Like others, Cuomo accused the Trump administration of changing testing recommendations “because they don’t want publicity that there is a Covid problem.”
“Because the president’s politics are, ‘COVID isn’t the problem. We’re past Covid,’” he said. “’It’s all about the economy, and the economy is doing great. We’re going to focus on the economy.’ And that’s his re-election strategy. So he’s using the CDC as a campaign rhetorical device.”
Michael Caputo, HHS assistant secretary for public affairs, later responded by denying claims that the White House was involved and shifted the blame back to Cuomo for “[proceeding] to seed the coronavirus throughout New York nursing homes, killing thousands.”
“Cuomo must not understand this guidance has been updated to place an emphasis on testing individuals for clinical and public health reasons, including the testing of asymptomatic people when directed by public health leaders or health care providers,” Caputo said.
Dr. Howard Zucker, New York state’s health commissioner, then bit back, saying, “I have spoken with the scientists at the CDC, and they say it’s political.”
Why Might the CDC Have Changed Its Guidance?
According to CNN, this new guidance could be the brainchild of CDC Director Robert Redfield. Last month, a change was proposed after a surge of coronavirus cases strained testing resources, prompting officials to look for new messaging on how to reduce excess testing.
That also aligns with other reports, including one from Politico which cites a person close to the CDC who defended the changes as necessary. According to that source, the recent changes prioritize testing for those at a higher risk of infection and address concerns that tests are being spread thin by a high demand of people who are unlikely to have been exposed to the virus.
Nonetheless, critics warn that slowing the rate of testing for asymptomatic people could have the opposite effect and result in more at-risk populations unknowingly coming into contact with the virus.
Biden Signs 17 Executive Order During His First Day in Office. Here’s What You Need to Know
- In the first hours of his presidency, Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders and proclamations, many of which focused on rolling back Trump administration policies regarding immigration, the environment, and protections for minority groups.
- Biden also implemented several measures to tackle the coronavirus, including requiring masks to be worn on federal property and by federal employees. He is also expected to announce a new national strategy aimed at restructuring the federal response to the pandemic.
- On Thursday, Biden will also invoke the Defense Production Act, which would speed up the development and distribution of vaccine-related equipment.
Biden Rolls Back Trump Policies
President Joe Biden signed 17 executive actions and proclamations Wednesday afternoon. Many of his first acts in office are focused on rolling back several policies implemented by former President Donald Trump that Biden’s aides said have caused the “greatest damage” to the country.
“I thought there’s no time to wait, get to work immediately,” Biden told reporters present during the signed of several of the orders.
Here is a breakdown of some of the key measures Biden implemented.
Biden immediately ended all construction on the border wall by overhauling the national emergency declaration Trump had enacted to divert billions in federal funds to his central campaign promise.
The new president also expanded protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and overturned a Trump policy that made immigration enforcement more strict and
In similar actions, he also ended the travel ban on multiple Muslim-majority countries and revoked a Trump administration order that would have excluded non-citizens from the 2020 Census count.
One of the most significant actions Biden took was signing a letter to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. It will take 30 days for the return to go into effect.
The president also issued a sweeping order that reversed a number of the Trump administration’s environmental policies, including revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, re-establishing a working group to look into the social costs of greenhouse gasses, and temporarily banning oil and natural gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Justice for Minority Groups
In one far-reaching order, Biden directed all federal agencies to review equity in their programs and policies. They are required to issue a report within 200 days that, among other things, details how each will remove barriers to opportunities and ensure all Americans have equal access to federal resources.
Biden also ended Trump’s policy that limited federal agencies, contractors, and other organizations from holding diversity and inclusion training. The same order also disbanded the 1776 Commission created by Trump to study his claims that the education system was too liberal in its teaching of American history.
In a separate order, the president issued changes that will broaden federal protections against sex discrimination to include LGBTQ+ Americans, reversing a previous action by Trump.
As part of a broad measure aimed at general accountability in the executive branch, Biden issued an order that will establish ethics rules for all people in his administration. The same order will also require all executive branch appointees to sign an ethics pledge.
Separately, the president additionally froze all new regulations Trump had put in place during his last few weeks in office until they can be further evaluated.
Economy and Coronavirus
Chief among Biden’s first acts in office were his plans for the coronavirus pandemic and the damage it has caused to the American people.
In terms of financial relief, Biden extended the ban on evictions and foreclosures and paused student loan payments until September.
As for direct actions concerning the pandemic, the president imposed a mask mandate for all federal employees and anyone on federal property. He also signed an extensive order aimed at restructuring the federal response to the pandemic.
Biden is expected to enact more policies in regards to the coronavirus in the coming days, including taking more executive actions to ramp up testing and vaccine distribution, safely reopening schools and businesses, and provide more money to states to help carry out those efforts, among other things.
To achieve these goals, he will also invoke the Defense Production Act, which will compel American companies to manufacture supplies for the pandemic response such as PPE and other items needed for vaccines.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (ABC News) (The Washington Post)
U.S. To Join WHO-led Vaccine Distribution Plan as Biden Implements a Flurry of COVID-19 Executive Orders
- Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated Thursday that President Joe Biden will join COVAX, a World Health Organization-led COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.
- Fauci’s announcement comes one day after Biden signed an executive order reversing former President Donald Trump’s plan to remove the United States from the WHO.
- Among other orders, Biden plans to implement a mask mandate for airports, planes, trains, and other forms of interstate travel. He has already ordered masks to be worn on all federal property.
- Biden is also expected to invoke the Defense Production Act on Thursday, which would speed up the development and distribution of vaccine-related equipment.
U.S. To Join COVAX
Just one day after President Joe Biden signed an order to keep the United States in the World Health Organization, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country will join its global COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.
That plan, COVAX, is a collaborative effort between 92 countries to ensure that COVID vaccines aren’t only distributed in wealthy countries.
The idea behind the plan is that establishing a global herd immunity will be much more effective at curbing the spread of the virus than just establishing herd immunity in countries that can afford to buy large quantities of the vaccine, especially when international travel picks back up.
The plan is not without its shortcomings. Earlier this week, the WHO stated that some countries participating in COVAX have been disregarding the plan and buying large quantities of vaccines for themselves.
Nonetheless, in a video conference call Thursday morning with the WHO’s executive board, Fauci — now chief medical advisor to the president — said the Biden administration believes it can inoculate every American while also helping people in other countries.
Biden’s plan to join COVAX is a stark contrast from the Trump administration, which refused to participate in the program.
Fauci said Biden will issue the directive to join COVAX later Thursday.
Additionally, Fauci noted that the U.S. once again “intends to fulfill its financial obligations” to the WHO.
In his attempt to leave the organization, Trump cut off payments from the U.S.; however, his administration never got the chance to fully cut ties with the organization because the U.S. wasn’t scheduled to officially leave until July of this year.
Biden Signs Mask Mandate, Other Orders To Come
Among other COVID-related executive orders signed Wednesday, Biden implemented a national mask mandate for people on federal property.
Sometime Thursday, Biden is also expected to sign another order requiring masks to be worn in airports, as well as on airplanes, trains, and other interstate transit systems.
Also on Thursday, Biden is also expected to sign an order that will establish a COVID-19 testing board. Once implemented, the board will be responsible for increasing testing rates, addressing supply shortfalls, and determining the rules and regulations for international travelers coming into the U.S. It will also have the power to distribute resources to minority communities that have been disproportionately affected by the virus.
On top of that, Biden plans to sign an order that will direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states and Native American tribes for their emergency response efforts. Notably, those reimbursements include costs related to reopening schools.
Finally, Biden is expected to invoke the Defense Production Act on Thursday. Such a move would speed up the production of masks and other equipment needed to help administer vaccines.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Reuters) (CNBC)
Trump Issues Over 140 Pardons and Commutations Ahead of Biden’s Inauguration
- In his last moments in office, now-former President Donald Trump granted clemency to more than 140 people at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.
- Among the notable pardons and commutations were rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and Trump megadonor Elliott Broidy.
- Trump’s final round of clemency did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reform advocates.
- Still, many also condemned Trump for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have been rehabilitated. Instead, critics feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.
Trump Grants Clemency
Former President Donald Trump issued more than 140 pardons and commutations at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, just hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
The move marks Trump’s final major act before the end of his term. Many of the most notable pardons and commutations were given to people whose names had been circulating in reports earlier this week, including rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, as well as former adviser Steve Bannon.
Bannon’s pardon is especially significant because he has not yet stood trial for the charges he faces. The charges against Trump’s former right-hand man center around allegations that he defrauded half a million people who donated to a crowdsourcing campaign to fund the construction of the border wall.
The leaders of the charity, aptly named We Build the Wall, had claimed that the more than $25 million they had solicited in donations would go to their goal, but prosecutors claim that Bannon took $1 million for his own personal expenses.
Bannon’s pardon is also significant because, according to reports, the reason the clemency announcements were late was because Trump could not decide whether or not to pardon him. However, as The Washington Post notes, Trump’s ultimate decision “underscores how Trump has used his presidential power to benefit allies and political backers.”
Trump has recently granted pardons to several of his former top aides, many of whom seem to have a knack for committing crimes for him.
At the end of last year, he pardoned his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his close friend and adviser, Roger Stone. All three had been convicted of crimes during the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In this newest batch of clemency grants, the former president also pardoned Elliott Broidy, a top Trump campaign fundraiser. Broidy pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws and accepting millions of dollars as part of a secret campaign to lobby the administration for Malaysian and Chinese interests.
Trump additionally pardoned a number of politicians who have been indicted for corruption, including three former Republican members of Congress and one former Democratic mayor.
Those Left Out
Trump’s last round of pardons and commutations did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reformers. One of those individuals was Chris Young, a man who had been sentenced to life for drug conspiracy, and whose commutation Kim Kardashian West had lobbied.
But in general, Trump has largely been condemned by criminal justice advocates for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have rehabilitated. Instead, they feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.
Despite the attention some of his pardons have received, either because they had celebrity power behind them or were controversial, Trump has actually approved fewer clemency requests than most previous presidents who served one term or less. Until this week, he had only granted clemency to 95 people.
Also of note are the controversial pardons that Trump was reportedly considering but ultimately decided against. These included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and “Tiger King” star Joe Exotic, the latter of whom was so sure he would be pardoned that he had a limo waiting for him outside his prison.
Trump was also reportedly considering preemptively pardoning himself and his children, but he apparently decided against the move. In addition to a self-pardon being questionably unconstitutional, any clemency for the former president and his family would require them to admit they committed crimes they have not yet been charged with.
While Trump decided against becoming the first president to ever pardon himself, the fact that he decided to give clemency to so many of his allies might pose some issues.
President Bill Clinton faced both congressional and criminal investigations for giving out 140 pardons and commutations on his final day in office in 2001, though notably, no wrongdoing was ultimately found.