WASHINGTON — The White House sent back guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month on how businesses, schools and other organizations should reopen with a request for revisions, two administration officials said.
The White House coronavirus task force, which is headed by Vice President Mike Pence, viewed the CDC’s advice as overly restrictive and in some cases thought it undercut the White House’s three-phase guidelines for opening up the country, released in mid-April, the official said.
The White House's guidelines on reopening and easing social distancing are broad and leave much of the decision-making to governors. Those guidelines say states should see a 14-day decrease in coronavirus cases before reopening but do not set a specific timeline for doing so.
"Issuing overly specific instructions — that CDC leadership never cleared — for how various types of businesses open up would be overly prescriptive and broad for the various circumstances states are experiencing throughout the country," a task force official told NBC News, noting that the White House guidelines advise states to open up in safe and responsible ways based on their own data and response efforts.
"Guidance in rural Tennessee shouldn’t be the same guidance for urban New York City," the official said. "For some of these reasons, the Task Force, who saw this after it was leaked, asked for certain revisions to be made to not only follow the phases in the Open Up America guidance, but work for all across America whether in rural areas or urban.”
The White House’s tabling of the CDC document was first reported by The Associated Press. NBC News has not independently reviewed the document.
Trump has been eager to focus attention on reopening the economy and has frequently warned that “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
In times of a public health emergency, it has traditionally been the CDC’s responsibility to provide the public and local officials with guidance and recommendations on how to respond. But the agency has not had as much of a public-facing role in the coronavirus pandemic.
CDC Director Robert Redfield is a member of the White House coronavirus task force, but he rarely appears for public briefings.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was asked Thursday at her weekly news conference about the news regarding the CDC report. She said that the U.S. must have a “federal standard” for reopening because she said “viruses know no borders.”
“The way this has been handled is most unfortunate because, first of all, they had guidelines, which were weak but nonetheless guidelines, and then the president said you don't even have to honor them, and then we find out now that there was a CDC report that had much more comprehensive guidelines and they buried it in the White House.”
"What is our goal? Our goal is a healthy America, a healthy economy," Pelosi said. "The route to that is to have standards testing and again, not bury what the CDC is recommending. And who was making this decision? Does he pay attention to the scientists? I don't know."