Top White House officials pressured the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to downplay the risk of reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report.
The push included members of the Trump administration pressuring the CDC to find alternative data that showed the novel virus had little affect on children, The New York Times reported, citing documents and interviews from current and former White House officials.
Officials reportedly spent weeks convincing the CDC to find alternative data that went along with President Donald Trump’s election plan, which included reviving the economy and reopening schools.
A former member of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff, who has since resigned, told the publication that she was asked on one occasion by Marc Short, Mr Pence’s chief of staff, to convince CDC leaders to find proof that the novel virus had little to no impact on children.
The former aide, Olivia Troye, said she regretted being “complicit” in the efforts made by the Trump administration to influence the CDC.
“You’re impacting people’s lives for whatever political agenda. You’re exchanging votes for lives, and I have a serious problem with that,” Ms Troye said. In recent weeks since leaving the White House, she’s vocally come out against Mr Trump and criticised the administration.
Dr Debroah Birx, a member of the White House’s coronavirus taskforce, also reportedly pressed for the CDC to incorporate a document that claimed children would experience long-term effects to their mental health if schools remained closed.
The document, which also claimed asymptomatic children were unlikely to spread the virus, was created by the Department of Health and Human Services’ agency the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In July, Dr Birx asked CDC director Dr Robert Redfield to include the document in an introduction of the school reopening guidance.
CDC scientists pushed back at the document, citing numerous errors and stating it diminished the impact of the coronavirus on children. The guidance was released with the introduction but, to the relief of some members of the CDC, the asymptomatic line about children was not included.
Just this week the CDC released a study that found pre-teens and teenagers were twice as likely to contract Covid-19 compared to younger children. In a survey, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association found a dramatic increase in children contracting the virus in recent weeks.
A recent study from South Korea also found children were just as capable of spreading Covid-19 as adults, further challenging rhetoric that claimed younger kids were not carriers fr the novel virus.
Mr Trump has been adamant about reopening schools and even threatened to withhold federal funding at one point to pressure officials.
After CDC released its guidance for reopening schools over the summer, the Trump administration, led by the president, pushed for the recommendations to be revised over concerns they were too expensive and difficult for districts to follow.
"The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough," Mr Pence said during a press conference in July. "That's the reason why, next week, CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward."
Brian Morgenstern, a White House spokesperson, told The New York Times that the coronavirus task force brought together public health officials “who offer different expertise and views on a variety of issues”.
He added the president relies on the advice of “all of his top health officials” who were in agreement it was “in the public health interest to reopen schools”.
“The relative risks posed by the virus to young people are outweighed by the risks of keeping children out of school indefinitely,” Mr Morgenstern said.