- 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.
Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena
The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.
Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.
In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.
Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.
Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee.
That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.
After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.
Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.
Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts
The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.
It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same.
The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively — are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.
Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.
As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.
Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December
The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.
Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily
The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.
The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.
After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.
The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday.
The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.
“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.
The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession.
Major Hurdles Remain
While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.
Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain.
Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.
Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.
Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.
Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.
Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.
In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul.
As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported.
It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent
California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.
Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.
Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.
“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.
Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.
Others May Follow
The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.
Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.
“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.
“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”
The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.