- 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.
Trump Refuses to Denounce White Supremacy During Debate
- When asked in Tuesday’s presidential debate if he would agree to denounce white supremacist groups and tell them to stand down, President Trump said he would, but when asked to explicitly say the words, he addressed only the far-right group the Proud Boys, and told them to “stand back and stand by.”
- Many people criticized Trump for not condemning white supremacist groups, others also slammed him for seeming to issue a call to arms for the Proud Boys.
- Organizations that track online extremism said the group embraced the “stand back and stand by” quote as a slogan, and some members took to social media sites to praise Trump’s remarks.
- Trump also attempted to shift the focus to unrest caused by left-wing groups and falsely claimed that they caused more violence than right-wing groups, a claim that is contrary to the evidence presented by high-level members of his own administration.
Trump Asked to Denounce White Supremacist Groups
President Donald Trump refused to directly denounce white supremacist groups when asked to do so in the contentious first presidential debate Tuesday night, sparking condemnation from critics and cheers from members of certain white nationalist-tied groups.
“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?” Fox News Sunday host and debate moderator Chris Wallace asked the president.
“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” Trump responded. “I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not from the right wing […] I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”
“Well, then do it, sir,” Wallace implored.
“What do you want to call them?” Trump asked. “Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn,”
“White supremacist and right-wing militia, proud boys,” Wallace responded, singling out the all-male white supremacist-tied group that has been known for engaging in and promoting violence.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” the president responded. “But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem this is a left wing.”
That moment and the response from the president has been described as one of the most significant moments of the night because while Trump said “sure” when asked if he would condemn white supremacist groups, when asked actually do so, he refused.
Even in telling the Proud Boys to stand down, he also told them to “stand by,” a refrain that alarmed many people who believed it sounded as though the president was signaling to members of the group to be ready for something.
“When Trump says: ‘Proud Boys – stand back and stand by’ – he is signalling that he considers them a private army waiting for his command to take to the streets if the result is not to his liking. That is very frightening,” writer Katy Brand tweeted.
“I still can’t get over the fact that Trump was told to condemn violent white supremacists, and all he could eek out was to tell the Proud Boys to ‘stand by’— effectively a call to arms,” political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen also wrote on twitter.
Many others also took aim more specifically at the president’s refusal to condemn white supremacists.
“He was given the opportunity multiple times to condemn white supremacy and he gave a wink and a nod to a racist nazi muerderous organization that is now celebrating online, that is now saying we have a go ahead,” attorney and commentator Van Jones told CNN.
However, in a separate interview with CNN, former Senator Rick Santorum seemed to defend Trump for refusing to denounce white supremacist groups.
“He was asking the president to do something he knows the president doesn’t like to do, which is say something bad about people who support him,” he said, though in a later appearance on another CNN program, he said Trump made a huge mistake by not condemning white supremacy.
As far as the official response from Trump’s team, when White House communications director Alyssa Farah was asked to clarify the president’s comments on Fox News, she said she did not think there was anything to clarify.
“He’s told them to stand back,” she said. “This president has surged federal resources when violent crime warrants it in cities. He’s leading.”
Proud Boys Respond
According to SITE Intel Group, which tracks online extremism, the Proud Boys embraced the “stand back and stand by” quote as a slogan. Some also took to social media sites like Parler, which is known for its large pro-Trump user base, to celebrate Trump’s words.
“Trump basically said to go fuck [protesters] up! this makes me so happy,” one prominent ally wrote on the platform, seemingly in regards to Trump’s remarks about antifa.
While Trump’s comments about antifa took up less focus, it is important to note that his attempts to deflect questions about right-wing groups contained multiple falsehoods that have been contradicted by people within his own administration and the intelligence community.
Despite the president’s claims that almost all the violence he sees is from the left, earlier this month, his own FBI director, Christopher Wray, said that “racially motivated violent extremism,” most of which has come from white supremacists, composes the majority of domestic terrorism threats.
Separately, just days after that, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kenneth Cuccinelli said that “when white supremacists act as terrorists, more people per incident are killed.”
Additionally, DHS also pointed to white extremism as a primary threat in a domestic terrorism assessment published last year.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Business Insider)
Trump and Biden Spar Over Voting Security at First Debate
- In the final round of Tuesday’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden addressed concerns over election security and voter fraud.
- As Biden correctly noted, top officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have said that there is no evidence of widespread mail-in voter fraud.
- Trump later claimed that mailmen in West Virginia are selling ballots. According to state officials, this is not true.
- While Biden promised that he would not declare victory on election night, Trump did not make any such promises when asked by moderator Chris Wallace.
Election Security Concerns
During the final leg of Tuesday night’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden sparred over the topic of election security in the face of widespread mail-in voting.
Here are some fact-checked claims made by both candidates.
Biden: No Evidence That Mail-In Voting Leads to Cheating
At the start of the sixth and final round of the debate, Biden said of Trump: “His own Homeland Security director, and as well as the FBI director, says that there is no evidence at all that mail-in ballots are a source of being manipulated and cheating.”
“They said that. The fact is that there are going to be millions of people because of COVID that are going to be voting by mail-in ballots like he does, by the way.”
While Biden does seem to confuse “homeland security director” with the DHS cybersecurity director, the gist of this claim is mostly true.
A few weeks ago, that director, Christopher Krebs, told CBS News that mail-in voting systems are resilient and secure because they create paper trails that can be audited.
Biden also referenced testimony given by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who last week, said that the U.S. has never experienced a large-scale mail-in voter fraud effort. Wray added that any such fraud would be a “major challenge” for foreign countries to pull off.
Trump: Ballots Found in Wastepaper Baskets
Trump opened the round by saying that he is fine with solicited ballots but that his problem lies with states automatically sending ballots to all registered voters. He then went on to assert a number of claims.
“They’re sending millions of ballots all over the country,” Trump said. “There’s fraud. They found them in creeks. They found some, just happened to have the name Trump, just the other day in a wastepaper basket.”
Trump repeated that claim several more times, saying at one point, “They found ballots in a wastepaper basket three days ago, and they all had the name military ballots. There were military. They all had the name Trump on them.”
The president is referring to a situation in Pennsylvania where nine mailed-in military ballots were found “discarded” by a local election office. Seven of those ballots are known to have been cast for Trump, while two remain sealed.
It is fully possible that those nine ballots could have been improperly discarded, and it is also possible that the move was intentional; however, an ongoing investigation has yet to make that determination.
As The Washington Post reports, military absentee ballots also look like absentee ballot requests, so it is possible they were opened accidentally.
It’s also possible that the ballots could have been what’s known as “naked ballots,” meaning each voters’ candidate choices would have been revealed after opening the envelope. If that is the case, those ballots would have had to have been thrown out because of a recent ruling by the state’s Supreme Court.
Still, as of the debate, it is unproven that this incident is fraud, as Trump claimed.
Trump: Mail Carriers Are Selling Ballots
Following that, Trump claimed that mail carriers in West Virginia are selling ballots.
“Did you see what’s going on?” Trump said. “Take a look at West Virginia, mailman selling the ballots. They’re being sold.”
Plain and simple, this is not true.
In fact, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office has since said that it doesn’t know of any instances in which ballots were sold in the state.
The closest comparison to Trump’s remarks stem from an incident that occurred earlier this year where a mailman pleaded guilty to election fraud after changing several absentee request forms from Democrat to Republican.
As many have noted, this instance of fraud was quickly caught. Additionally, the mailman’s actions never resulted in any altered ballots.
Wallace: Will You Pledge Not to Declare Immediate Victory?
Debate moderator Chris Wallace ended Tuesday’s debate by asking both candidates if they would urge their supporters to stay calm and not engage in civil unrest in the days following the election.
That’s because, as Wallace pointed out, the results of the election likely won’t be known for days or even maybe weeks after Nov. 3rd, due to the high volume of mail-in ballots.
“And will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified?” Wallace asked.
“I’m urging my supporters to go in to the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen,” Trump responded. “I am urging them to do it.
“If it’s a fair election, I am 100% on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that. And I’ll tell you why—”
“What does that mean, not go along?” Wallace asked. “Does that mean you’re going to tell your people — to take to the streets?”
“I’ll tell you what it means,” Trump said. “It means you have a fraudulent election. You’re sending out 80 million ballots… These people are not equipped to handle it.”
Biden, however, responded with a much more concrete answer to Wallace’s question.
“Yes,” Biden said. “And here’s the deal. We count the ballots, as you pointed out. Some of these ballots in some states can’t even be opened until election day. And if there’s thousands of ballots, it’s going to take time to do it.”
See what others are saying: (Forbes) (ABC News) (The Washington Post)
Cambridge Analytica Passed Voter Suppression Information Over to the 2016 Trump Campaign, New Report Claims
- A new report claims Donald Trump’s campaign disproportionately targeted Black voters in the 2016 presidential election in an attempt to dissuade them from voting.
- According to Channel 4, Cambridge Analytica compiled that information and passed it to the Trump campaign as part of a “Deterrence” category.
- While this practice is legal, through the use of Facebook ads, it also potentially targeted 3.5 million Black voters in many states that were ultimately decided in tight races.
- Trump’s re-election campaign has denied these reports, but according to Channel 4, the 2016 campaign’s chief scientist explicitly said the “Deterrence” category contained people that the campaign “hope don’t show up to vote.”
Cambridge Analytica Database
A new report claims Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign received and used data that disproportionately targeted Black voters in an attempt to discourage them from voting in the last presidential election.
The report, published by U.K. outlet Channel 4 News, alleges that the Trump campaign received a database on 200 million American voters from the now-defunct firm Cambridge Analytica. That firm attracted international scrutiny after it was found to have harvested millions of Facebook users’ personal data without their consent.
In 2016, the Trump Campaign pumped $5.9 million into Cambridge Analytica.
As The Washington Post puts it, this database “could add detail to allegations about Cambridge Analytica’s role in the campaign, particularly in efforts to harness Facebook’s powerful ad technologies to dissuade Black voters from supporting Hillary Clinton.”
According to Channel 4, which claims to have obtained the database made by Cambridge Analytica, the list of voters covers 16 key battleground states. Among those states, voters were then separated into eight different categories.
For example, likely Democratic voters were listed as either “Core Clinton,” “Disengaged Clinton,” or “Deterrence.” Channel 4 quoted the chief data scientist of Trump’s 2016 campaign as explicitly saying the “Deterrence” category contained people that the campaign “hope don’t show up to vote.”
Notably, more than half the people listed in that category were either Black, Asian, or Latino.
On top of that, while Black voters only make up about 5.4% of the voting population in Wisconsin, the database marked 17% of Black voters in the state for “Deterrence.”
Likewise, in Michigan, Black voters accounted for 15% of the voting population in 2016; however, the database marked 33% of Black voters in the state for “Deterrence.”
Both races were extremely tight. In fact, Trump won Michigan by just 11,000 votes. At the same time, Black voter turnout in the state dropped by more than 12%.
Ties to the Trump Campaign
Channel 4 has not revealed how it obtained this database, but it does claim that Cambridge Analytica worked “hand in glove with a team from the Republican National Committee.”
Following the report, Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Trump’s reelection campaign, dismissed it as “fake news,” saying that Trump’s record gave him a “relationship of trust with African American voters.”
Paris Dennard, the RNC’s senior communications adviser for Black media affairs, affirmed that the data obtained by Channel 4 “is not our data.”
Matt Braynard, the Trump data director for the 2016 campaign, said his team didn’t use those categorizations. Instead, he said they relied on material from the party and another firm, L2 political.
“Deterrence doesn’t mean suppression and it doesn’t mean deterrence from voting,” Braynard specified. “It just means deterrence from voting for Hillary Clinton.”
Many of the testimonies seem to conflict with one another. While Murtaugh has claimed the story is “fake news,” Braynard has seemingly admitted that this data is at least real. In addition to that, Braynard said the category wasn’t meant to be a full deterrence from voting, but Channel 4’s quote from the Trump data scientist indicates the direct opposite.
According to The Washington Post, Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge Analytica’s former director of business development, said Channel 4’s report is consistent with “her understanding of how Cambridge Analytica and Republicans targeted Black voters in 2016.”
Kaiser then provided The Post with an internal company document from 2016 which described a similar classification strategy for Democrats, including a category labelled “Deterrent.”
Was This Legal?
The tactics described in the Channel 4 report are legal.
David Carroll, a professor at the Parsons School of Design in New York, called the database “a diabolically effective campaign tactic,” but added in a statement to The Post, “They’re just using free speech, even if it is misleading.”
Despite the tactic by Cambridge Analytica being legal, Channel 4 criticized Facebook for its role in airing ads potentially aimed at dissuading voters. Of particular note, during the 2016 Election, Facebook also employed “dark posts,” or ads that vanish from feeds after a campaign stops paying for them.
Those ads make it difficult to go back and track how campaigns targeted specific groups, and that has become a major point of contention because the Trump Campaign pumped $44 million in such types of ads in 2016.
Channel 4 was also critical of Facebook because it was seemingly the original source of information used to help create this database; however, Facebook has maintained that its information was improperly obtained and that Cambridge Analytica was in violation of its policies.