The CDC updated its guidance on coronavirus — and then quietly reversed it again

On Thursday, September 17, 2020, the New York Times broke the news that the Center for Disease Control's official coronavirus testing guidance — which discouraged people without symptoms from getting tested — actually came from the Department of Health and Human Services, without CDC knowledge or approval:

The guidance said it was not necessary to test people without symptoms of Covid-19 even if they had been exposed to the virus. It came at a time when public health experts were pushing for more testing rather than less, and administration officials told The Times that the document was a C.D.C. product and had been revised with input from the agency's director, Dr. Robert Redfield.

But officials told The Times this week that the Department of Health and Human Services did the rewriting and then "dropped" it into the C.D.C.'s public website, flouting the agency's strict scientific review process.

This news came after a confusing summer where HHS took over coronavirus data collection from the CDC and outsourced it to a shady private subcontractor that botched the project, and then gave the reins back to the CDC at the end of August.

Then, on Friday, September 18, 2020, the CDC updated its coronavirus guidance to acknowledge the potential threat of aerosol transmissions that linger in the air much longer than the infected droplets from a casual conversation. As The Washington Post summed up well:

The CDC shifted its guidelines Friday, but the change was not widely noticed until a CNN report Sunday. Where the agency previously warned that the virus mostly spreads through large drops encountered at close range, on Friday, it had said "small particles, such as those in aerosols," were a common vector.

But Jay Butler, the CDC's deputy director for infectious disease, said the Friday update was posted in error. "Unfortunately an early draft of a revision went up without any technical review," he said.

By Monday, September 21, 2020, the CDC had gone back to their previous language, scrubbing all mention of airborne spread except for an update box acknowledging the error and saying that changes are still in process.

Scientists around the globe have been clamoring since July for the World Health Organization and various governments to recognize the airborne potential of coronavirus. Also from The Washington Post:

Experts who reviewed the CDC's Friday post had said the language change had the power to shift policy and public behavior. Some suggested it should drive a major rethinking of public policy — particularly at a time when students in many areas are returning to indoor classrooms.

It was a "major change," Jose-Luis Jimenez, a chemistry professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies how aerosols spread the virus, told The Washington Post before the CDC reversed itself. "This is a good thing, if we can reduce transmission because more people understand how it is spreading and know what to do to stop it."

In possibly-related news, Trump's reliable stooges in the HHS are reportedly taking control of the FDA's vaccine regulations, too.

Suffice to say: none of this inspires much guidance in the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus, especially coming on the heels of the news that Trump himself lied about his awareness of its airborne potential as early as February 7, 2020.

CDC reverses itself and says guidelines it posted on coronavirus airborne transmission were wrong [Tim Elfrink, Ben Guarino, and Chris Mooney / The Washington Post]

Image via CDC