Trump administration tried to suppress Covid-19 testing, new emails show

Josh Marcus
·3-min read
People wait in line outside a New York City Health + Hospitals COVID testing site in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
People wait in line outside a New York City Health + Hospitals COVID testing site in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A new trove of emails from congressional investigators shows how Trump appointees pressured scientists tackling the coronavirus to back unproven treatments and limit testing guidelines, as the House of Representatives presses on with its oversight investigation.

The House has been conducting an oversight investigation of the Trump administration's pandemic response since last April, and its latest round of disclosures suggest a “persistent pattern of political interference in the nation’s public health response,” chairman James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, wrote in a statement.

Taken together, material from the investigation “shows that political appointees were involved in the decision to change CDC’s guidance, and that the Trump Administration changed the guidance for the explicit purpose of reducing testing and allowing the virus to spread while quickly reopening the economy," Mr Clyburn added.

He also told the Washington Post that the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t fully comply with two subpoenas as well as at least 20 document requests.

The emails include messages from Paul Alexander, a Trump-appointed scientific adviser, who had controversially pushed for deliberately infecting young people with coronavirus to achieve herd immunity, before he was fired in September.

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In one exchange, Mr Alexander, who could not be reached for comment, defends a decision from the CDC in August to change its testing guidance to say those in close contact with infected people “do not necessarily need a test,” a decision it later reversed in September after pressure from public health experts.

“Testing asymptomatic people to seek asymptomatic cases is not the point of testing,” Mr Alexander wrote in an 27 August email. “All this accomplishes is we end up quarantining asymptomatic, low-risk people and preventing the workforce from working,” he added.

“In this light, it would be unreasonable based on the prevailing data to have widespread testing of schools and colleges/universities. This will not allow them to optimally re-open,” he added.

He also pushed for increased public access to hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug president Trump hailed as a promising treatment despite lacking evidence.

“I would never do this but do it here for we have lives on the line, and we are searching for a treatment or combination. and I want to help the administration and you two as the top regulators in this push,” Mr Alexander wrote to the FDA officials after they revoked temporary authorisation to use the drug in serious cases. “[W]e are being fought by the other side and media, which is horrendous for we have a very serious emergency.”

He wrote in another message that Dr Anthony Fauci had only criticised the drug “because the President said good things about it.”

The White House told the Post it is reviewing the committee’s requests.

“We appreciate Chairman Clyburn and the Select Subcommittee’s diligent work to help ensure an effective, science-driven pandemic response on the part of the United States government,” spokesperson Kevin Munoz said.

In September, Mr Alexander defended his record of fighting the pandemic to The Globe and Mail, and bashed CDC scientists for “generating pseudo scientific reports.”

“None of those people have my skills,” he said. “I make the judgment whether this is crap.”

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