The Slatest

White House Reportedly Overruled CDC Recommendation That Seniors Avoid Flying

Azar, Trump, Redfield, and Monroe stand in a lab. Trump gestures with his hands and wears a MAGA hat.
President Donald Trump with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, CDC Director Robert Redfield, and CDC Associate Director for Laboratory Science and Safety Steve Monroe at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Friday. Jim Watson/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s administration did not want to go through with a suggestion from health officials that it recommend elderly and “physically fragile” Americans avoid flying on commercial airlines because of the new coronavirus, an unnamed official tells the Associated Press. The suggestion had been made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but White House officials said that it should be nixed from the government’s recommendations. On Friday, the CDC advised older Americans and those with serious medical conditions to “stay home as much as possible” and avoid crowded areas, but didn’t make a specific mention of flying.

Administration officials disputed the AP’s story, with Katie Miller, the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence, characterizing the piece as “complete fiction,” insisting that “it was never a recommendation to the Task Force.” On Saturday, Pence had called on “older people with serious health problems” to “practice common sense and avoid activities including traveling on a cruise line.”

Even as the administration disputes that particular story, there are several insider accounts of how things unfolded in the White House as the coronavirus began spreading around the world that show how key opportunities were wasted to try to slow the spread of the new virus. While health officials tried to get the administration to sound the alarm about the new virus, the White House was more focused on trying to minimize the risk in order to prevent a negative effect on the financial markets and sparking panic. “The confused signals from the Trump administration, they say, left Americans unprepared for a public health crisis,” notes the New York Times.

Trump, in particular, frequently said things were under control when that was far from the truth. That had dire consequences. The Washington Post explains:

The repeated false claims by the president that the virus was being contained exacerbated the problem. They made it difficult for public health officials to lay out the need to prepare for what happens next, even after most experts had begun to fear the virus was already here and spreading. There was also a ripple effect, with health officials and others not taking the threat as seriously as they should have because Trump kept on making faulty assurances, such as his claim at a Feb. 26 news conference that within the United States, the number of cases was “going to be down to close to zero.”

Trump is none too happy about all these stories about how his administration has dropped the ball on the coronavirus response and let his anger be known in a Sunday morning tweet. “We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House,” Trump wrote. “The Fake News Media is doing everything possible to make us look bad. Sad!”