- 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.
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”