The Donald Trump administration intervened multiple times to block critically important warnings to the public from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as COVID-19 was exploding across the nation, top health officials have told congressional investigators, according to newly released interviews and other records released Friday.
A furious Trump immediately curtailed CDC officials’ media appearances after agency health expert Dr. Nancy Messonnier warned early last year that the spread of COVID-19 was inevitable, she told the House select subcommittee on the pandemic.
“Our intention was certainly to get the public’s attention,” Messonnier told investigators, but she was later reprimanded for the warning, including by then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
The CDC held no news briefings between early March 9 and the end of May last year as the pandemic was building and despite repeated requests from the agency, The Washington Post noted.
Trump appointees also pressured the agency to change its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports to align with the White House’s optimistic messages about COVID-19, health officials said.
In the newly released excerpts of information from White House COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, she accused Trump’s controversial White House adviser Scott Atlas of working to cut access to COVID-19 tests last year.
“This was an intent of Scott Atlas when he came to the White House, to change the testing guidance,” Birx said.
Trump frequently complained publicly that U.S. statistics looked bad because too many tests were revealing the nation’s high number of cases. Stopping tests was his solution to minimizing the appearance of a problem.
“If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any,” Trump insisted in June last year.
Birx said that Atlas triggered changes to CDC testing recommendations two months later that called for excluding people without visible symptoms, even if they had been exposed to infected people.
“This document resulted in less testing and … less aggressive testing of those without symptoms that I believed were the primary reason for the early community spread,” Birx told investigators.
In information from Birx released by the subcommittee last month, Birx said she believes the COVID-19 death toll could have been cut as much as 40% with better decisions by the Trump White House.
Trump himself admitted to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward that he knew COVID was “deadly stuff,” but that he deliberately downplayed the risk to the public.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward, the journalist reported in his book “Rage.” “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
In February 2020 Trump said there were only 15 cases of COVID-19 in the nation, and that it would soon be “close to zero.” He also said that “like a miracle” the virus would “disappear,” and congratulated himself on doing a “pretty good job.”
Since then, 762,000 Americans have died of COVID.
Check out more of the latest revelations from the House subcommittee investigation in The Washington Post story here.