WASHINGTON – The White House has blocked Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield from testifying before Congress next week on how to safely reopen schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, multiple outlets have reported.
Redfield, and other officials from the CDC, were going to be testifying 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, has been blocked.
“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 has reached out to the White House for comment.
However, a spokesperson for the committee told USA TODAY the panel had requested testimony from any CDC official, not just Redfield, and was denied.
Committee Chairman Bobby C. Scott, D-Va., released a statement saying he wants “school reopenings 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 been pushing 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 have expressed concerns about returning to classrooms because of the risk that students could carry the virus home to older relatives. Education professionals have also expressed worry they may be in harm’s way.
Additionally, 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 earlier in 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 the behest of Trump but said the CDC instead was providing “additional reference documents.”
CDC officials have since 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 has 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 that had previously received scrutiny and approval from the task force. Administration officials had 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 also recently 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 important 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 USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: White House blocks CDC director from testifying on school reopenings