- 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.
Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.
Mississippi’s Abortion Case
Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.
After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.
Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.
When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.
As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.
When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”
But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
New Filing Takes Aim at Roe
With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.
“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.
“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers.
“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.
“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”
The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.
An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)
Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks
The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.
Pelosi Vetoes Republicans
Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.
In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”
Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden.
A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.
The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.
In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”
Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.
McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation
McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.
In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.”
“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.
“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel.
“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
More Republican Are Pushing COVID Vaccinations, But the Party Remains Divided on Its Messaging
The renewed effort to encourage vaccination comes as the surge in COVID cases caused by the delta variant continues to disproportionately impact Republican-led states with low vaccination rates.
GOP Leaders Ramps Up Vaccination Push
In recent days, more Republican leaders and prominent conservatives have ramped up efforts to encourage members of their party to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the U.S. continues to see massive surges from the delta variant.
Some, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been pushing Americans to get vaccinated for months — a call he reiterated again on Tuesday. Many others, however, have been reticent to do the same until recently.
Most notable on that list is Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the no. 2 Republican in House leadership, who just got his first dose over the weekend after resisting vaccination, claiming he had antibodies from previously contracting COVID. Scalise explained he changed his mind because of delta and encouraged others to do the same.
“There shouldn’t be any hesitancy over whether or not it’s safe and effective,” he said.
The top leader is set to continue pushing that advice. Earlier this week, the GOP Doctors Caucus announced that it would hold a news conference Thursday alongside Scalise and the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), to encourage vaccination.
Rank and File Republicans Continue To Cast Doubt, Spread Misinformation
There are still plenty of Republicans working to undermine the renewed push to get their party vaccinated.
While many have painted vaccination as a matter of freedom of choice, others have sought to downplay the virus. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state currently accounts for 40% of all new COVID cases, dismissed the spikes as the result of a “seasonal virus” on Monday.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk — who has had COVID twice — echoed that in a statement to reporters on Tuesday, where he argued that COVID is just something everyone has to live with.
“This is something we deal with in our lives on a daily basis; ever since I’ve been born, there’s sicknesses, there’s flu, there’s different diseases,” he said.
Some members of the GOP have used their positions of power to actively fight against vaccination. That includes Sen. Ron Johnson (Wi.), who has openly said he is not vaccinated. He has also been widely condemned for promoting unproven treatments and false information about vaccines during interviews and congressional hearings.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly refused to share her vaccination status, has also drawn ire for sharing misinformation and continually comparing COVID prevention efforts to the Holocaust.
Greene was temporarily suspended from Twitter earlier this week for sharing false information on Monday, but she continued to utilize her spotlight to spread misinformation about vaccine-related deaths and side effects during a press conference the following day.
While those who downplay the coronavirus and spread false information about vaccinations are certainly not representative of the entire Republican Party, they are some of the most visible.
Greene and many of her counterparts who push anti-vaccine narratives have frequently been accused of acting in inflammatory ways to get more press — a strategy that more often than not tends to work in their favor.
As a result, Republicans who want to encourage people to get the jabs will have their work cut out for them. Even many of those who have not openly expressed skepticism themselves have still let it flourish in the party for so long by not publicly pushing back against claims from members who sow disinformation.
The GOP’s broader failure to unify around a singular message on vaccines shows clearly among the party’s base.
According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News, poll 86% of Democrats have received at least one shot, but just 45% of Republicans have done the same. While just 6% of Democrats say they are not likely to get the vaccine, 47% of Republicans said they probably will not, and 38% said they definitely will not.
Meanwhile, Republican-led states with low vaccination rates are suffering the most from the new spike in cases and the rapid spread of the delta variant.
Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country at just 35%, is currently reporting the highest per-capita cases in the U.S. Hospitalizations have gone up 85% in the state in the last two weeks, placing some hospital systems on the brink of collapse — a problem also faced by parts of Missouri, which has the third-highest COVID cases nationwide.