The White House rejected on Monday an offer from the nation’s public health experts to lead the effort to track down and notify Americans who were exposed to a growing coronavirus outbreak linked to President Donald Trump and several top aides.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is widely considered the federal government’s authority in contact tracing, the public health best practice of reaching out to people at risk of acquiring an infectious disease and to identify others who were subsequently exposed.
In interviews and internal CDC communications reviewed by USA TODAY, current and former agency officials accused the White House of seeking to avoid learning the scope of the outbreaks. Without an independent investigation, they said, countless others may be exposed and never know it.
“CDC, when left in the hands of its scientists, makes tough decisions and helps implement them and maybe that’s not what the White House wants,” said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, a former CDC director and 26-year veteran of the agency. “They seem to be marching toward a different goal. It’s a petty one and a partisan one. And all of us pay the price.”
Nine months into the most deadly pandemic in a century, the sidelining of the CDC in the investigation into an outbreak as prominent as a White House-linked cluster that has infected at least 18 mostly prominent Republicans underscores the agency’s diminished influence.
The White House Medical Unit declined an offer of assistance from the CDC’s leadership during a Monday morning phone call, according to multiple sources within the agency. CDC Director Robert Redfield has been offering the agency’s help since Trump’s diagnosis was disclosed on Friday.
Trump was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland on Friday after confirming his diagnosis following a busy week during which the president interacted with people at events in eight states and Washington D.C. His contacts with confirmed cases now include at least three U.S. senators, the Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. First Lady Melania Trump has also tested positive for COVID-19.
CDC spokesman Tom Skinner confirmed that the White House has not accepted the CDC’s offers to run the contact tracing but referred questions about the situation to the White House.
The White House has not shared specific details about its contact tracing effort, despite multiple requests by