WASHINGTON – The White House blocked Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield from testifying before Congress this week on how to safely reopen schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, multiple outlets reported.
Redfield and other officials from the CDC were going to testify in front of the House Education and Labor Committee as the debate over sending students back to school has intensified.
Redfield’s testimony, along with that of other officials, was blocked, according to the committee.
“Dr. Redfield has testified on the Hill at least four times over the last three months. We need our doctors focused on the pandemic response,” a White House official said, according to The Associated Press.
USA TODAY was unable to reach the White House for comment.
A spokesperson for the committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told USA TODAY the panel requested testimony from any CDC official, not just Redfield, and was denied.
Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., released a statement saying he wants “school reopening plans to be guided by public health experts.”
“It is alarming that the Trump administration is preventing the CDC from appearing before the Committee at a time when its expertise and guidance is so critical to the health and safety of students, parents, and educators. This lack of transparency does a great disservice to the many communities across the country facing difficult decisions about reopening schools this fall,” Scott said. “The administration’s strategy of prioritizing politics over science has had a devastating impact on our country throughout this pandemic. It should not make that same mistake when it comes to reopening schools.”
It is alarming that the Trump Administration is preventing the CDC from appearing before the @EdLaborCmte at a time when its expertise and guidance is so critical to the health and safety of students, parents, and educators. https://t.co/Sa5xElmCDJ
— Rep. Bobby Scott (@BobbyScott) July 17, 2020
President Donald Trump and his administration have pushed to reopen schools under the premise that children under the age of 18 “are at very low risk” if they catch the virus.
Some experts expressed concerns about returning to classrooms because of the risk that students could carry the virus home to older relatives. Education professionals expressed worry they may be in harm’s way.
Federal guidance on school reopenings has been unclear as the CDC and the White House have gone back and forth regarding recommendations.
“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Vice President Mike Pence said at a news conference this month. “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.”
The next day, Redfield pushed back on the idea that the organization was revising its guidelines at Trump’s behest but said the CDC would provide “additional reference documents.”
CDC officials delayed the release of the new recommendations. A spokesperson told CNN and other outlets, “They’re not ready to come out this week.”
The original CDC recommendations on in-school practices called for wearing face masks, separating desks and staggering schedules for students, among other practices.
Trump threatened to “cut off funding” if schools don’t reopen their classrooms this fall.
The CDC’s school reopening guidelines, first published in May, were part of a larger battery of recommendations for reopening the country safely. Administration officials labeled earlier versions “overly prescriptive” after reports that they shelved guidance.
USA TODAY has reported multiple instances since February in which CDC officials, at odds with the White House, felt pressured to bend public health guidance or ignore scientific evidence.
The Trump administration ordered hospitals to bypass the CDC and send all COVID-19 patient information to a central database in Washington, starting Wednesday, according to a Health and Human Services document updated July 10.
The handoff had an immediate effect. Wednesday afternoon, one of the CDC pages that tracked changes over time in how many hospital beds in the nation are occupied by COVID-19 patients ceased working. The CDC confirmed the page’s disappearance was a consequence of the switch.
Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez, Elizabeth Weise, Ryan W. Miller, Maureen Groppe, Brett Murphy, Letitia Stein
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: White House blocks CDC director from testifying on school reopenings