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Newly released emails show Trump administration tried to slow virus testing

The emails were revealed as part of a House investigation into the Trump administration’s failed coronavirus response.

By Emily Singer - February 08, 2021
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Donald Trump

Newly released emails written by a former Trump administration official show just how deep the effort to slow down the testing of Americans for the coronavirus went, as political appointees sought to meet Donald Trump’s demand to make the number of cases look smaller in an effort to bolster his reelection chances.

The emails were released by the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which has been investigating Trump’s failed pandemic response. The Washington Post first reported on the emails, which the committee says prove there was political interference in the Trump administration’s virus response efforts.

The emails were sent by Paul Alexander, a Trump political appointee who was behind an effort to get the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop testing asymptomatic people who had been exposed to the coronavirus. Alexander was the same official who Politico reported in December was behind the push for a “herd immunity” strategy, in which Alexander wanted millions of people to be infected with the coronavirus to build community resistance to it and end the pandemic — a strategy public health officials said was dangerous and could have led to many more deaths.

The committee wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden’s chief of staff that “recently obtained evidence 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.”

In an Aug. 27, 2020, email obtained by the committee, Alexander wrote, “Testing asymptomatic people to seek asymptomatic cases is not the point of testing, for in the end, all this accomplishes is we end up quarantining asymptomatic, low risk people and preventing the workforce from working. 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.”

The email was sent one day after the CDC changed its guidance to say that asymptomatic people who had been exposed to the virus did not need to get tested, against the advice of public health experts who said finding asymptomatic infected people before they could unwittingly infect others was an important tool for stopping the pandemic from getting out of control.

The decision to change testing recommendations led to a barrage of criticism, and the CDC reversed the guidance a month later.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), chair of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said that the investigation into the Trump administration’s failures in handling the pandemic will continue, and requested more documents sent by political appointees and career civil servants in the health department related to Trump’s coronavirus response, including the rollout of vaccines.

Trump left office with the COVID-19 pandemic raging out of control. More than 463,000 people have died of complications related to the virus to date in the United States.

Biden is now working to stem the spread of the virus. Jeff Zients, the co-coordinator of Biden’s COVID-19 task force, told reporters after Biden took office, “What we’re inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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