In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, as cases spread rapidly and deaths mounted, then-President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw help for governors who didn’t treat him “nicely,” and his aides barred the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from giving briefings for a staggering six months, according to a trove of new information released this week.
Emails between top officials from the CDC and Trump administration, released by a House panel on Friday, also revealed that Trump aides strong-armed the CDC into watering down its public-health guidance for churches in May 2020, just as houses of worship were emerging as particularly risky settings.
In early May, the CDC released two reports, one of which detailed how a pastor at an Arkansas church and his wife unwittingly spread the virus to 26 others, which came to balloon into a cluster of 61 people, of whom four died. The second report found that 87 percent of attendees at a choir practice in Washington had caught the virus.
The message, and accompanying recommendations that churches hold virtual or drive-in services only, was a stark contrast to Trump’s ridiculously rosy suggestion in April that the country should reopen entirely and be “raring to go by Easter.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, when the CDC sent its draft guidance for religious communities to the White House on May 21, 2020, Trump aides immediately pushed back, the emails show.
Aides expressed concern that the guidance “seems to raise religious liberty concerns” and suggested the CDC be allowed to publish guidance “contingent on striking the offensive passages.”