White House Blocked C.D.C. From Mandating Masks on Public Transit

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drafted a sweeping order last month requiring all passengers and employees to wear masks on all forms of public and commercial transportation in the United States, but it was blocked by the White House, according to two federal health officials.

The order would have been the toughest federal mandate to date aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, which continues to infect more than 40,000 Americans a day. The officials said that it was drafted under the agency’s “quarantine powers” and that it had the support of the secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, but the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, declined to even discuss it.

The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment, said the order would have required face coverings on airplanes, trains, buses and subways, and in transit hubs such as airports, train stations and bus depots.

A task force official said the decision to require masks should be left up to states and localities. The administration requires the task force to sign off on coronavirus-related policies.

“The approach the task force has taken with any mask mandate is, the response in New York City is different than Montana, or Tuscaloosa, Alabama,” said the official who asked not to be identified because he did not have permission to discuss the matter. “Local and state authorities need to determine the best approach for their responsive effort depending on how the coronavirus is impacting their area.”

The thwarting of the mask rule is the latest in a number of C.D.C. actions stalled or changed by the White House. Late last month, the coronavirus task force overruled the C.D.C. director’s order to keep cruise ships docked until mid-February. That plan was opposed by the tourism industry in Florida, an important swing state in the presidential election. Political appointees at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services have also been involved in rewriting the agency’s guidelines on reopening schools and testing for the virus, bypassing the agency’s scientists.

Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the House committee on transportation and infrastructure, criticized Mr. Trump for ignoring public health experts from his own administration on the mask issue.

“It’s especially outrageous because the science is so clear: masks save lives,” Mr. DeFazio said. “The millions of Americans who work in and use our transportation systems every day — from bus drivers, train conductors and flight attendants, to the frontline workers who rely on public transit — deserve to know their president is relying on experts’ best advice and doing everything possible to keep them safe.”

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White House Blocked C.D.C. From Requiring Masks on Public Transportation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drafted a sweeping order last month requiring all passengers and employees to wear masks on all forms of public and commercial transportation in the United States, but it was blocked by the White House, according to two federal health officials.

The order would have been the toughest federal mandate to date aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, which continues to infect more than 40,000 Americans a day. The officials said that it was drafted under the agency’s “quarantine powers” and that it had the support of the secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, but the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, declined to even discuss it.

The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment, said the order would have required face coverings on airplanes, trains, buses and subways, and in transit hubs such as airports, train stations and bus depots.

A task force official said the decision to require masks should be left up to states and localities. The administration requires the task force to sign off on coronavirus-related policies.

“The approach the task force has taken with any mask mandate is, the response in New York City is different than Montana, or Tuscaloosa, Alabama,” said the official who asked not to be identified because he did not have permission to discuss the matter. “Local and state authorities need to determine the best approach for their responsive effort depending on how the coronavirus is impacting their area.”

Most public health officials believe that wearing masks is one of the most effective ways to protect against the spread of the virus, particularly in crowded, poorly ventilated public places that attract people from all over, like transportation venues. Many feel that the Trump administration has turned the wearing — or not wearing — of masks into a political expression, as seen most dramatically on Monday evening when President Trump whipped off his surgical mask at the White House door after returning from the hospital where he was treated for Covid-19.

“I think masks are the most powerful weapon we have to confront Covid and we all need to embrace masks and set the example for each other,” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the C.D.C. director, who oversaw the drafting of the order, said in a recent interview.

Dr. Redfield has been publicly at odds with President Trump for promoting mask wearing along with social distancing, and for warning that a vaccine for the virus won’t be widely available until next year.

The thwarting of the mask rule is the latest in a number of C.D.C. actions stalled or changed by the White House. Late last month, the coronavirus task force overruled the C.D.C. director’s order to keep cruise ships docked until mid-February. That plan was opposed by the tourism industry in Florida, an important swing state in the presidential election. Political appointees at the White House and

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White House blocked CDC order to keep cruise ships docked

The White House has blocked a new order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep cruise ships docked until mid-February, a step that would have displeased the politically powerful tourism industry in the crucial swing state of Florida.

The current “no sail” policy is set to expire Wednesday. Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the CDC, had recommended the extension, worried that cruise ships could become viral hot spots, as they did at the beginning of the pandemic.

But at a meeting of the coronavirus task force Tuesday, Redfield’s plan was overruled, according to a senior federal health official who was not authorized to comment and so spoke on condition of anonymity. The administration will instead allow the ships to sail after Oct. 31, the date the industry had already agreed to in its own, voluntary plan. The rejection of the CDC’s plan was first reported by Axios.

Redfield, who has been scolded by President Donald Trump for promoting mask wearing and cautioning that vaccines won’t be widely available until next year, worried before the Tuesday decision that he might get fired and had considered resigning if he were required to oversee a policy that compromised public health, according to a senior administration official as well as a person close to Redfield.

The cruise ship industry has considerable political influence in Florida. The Cruise Lines International Association said that the industry generates $53 billion in economic activity. The Florida Ports Council said that state’s cruise industry, the largest in the nation, has been the hardest hit by the coronavirus.

Republican politicians in Florida and cruise industry lobbyists have called for ending the no-sail order. “I urge the CDC not to extend or renew the ‘No Sail Order,’” Carlos A. Gimenez, the Republican mayor of Miami-Dade County, said in a statement Saturday.

On Sept. 16, Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio proposed the Set Sail Safely Act, which would create a maritime task force to work on the logistical changes needed to allow the industry to resume operations safely.

“The Florida delegation is very supportive and is trying to work with the administration and the CDC to see what efforts we can do to get the industry up and operating,” said Michael Rubin, vice president of governmental affairs for the Florida Ports Council. “It’s still the only industry that’s not allowed to operate at the moment.”

The cruise industry association, which says it represents 95% of oceangoing passenger ship capacity globally, is seeking a gradual resumption of sailing, starting with voyages containing crew members posing as passengers. Its plan is based in large part on recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel, which was established by several of the major cruise lines and was led by Michael Leavitt, the former Utah governor and health secretary, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration. Some CDC representatives attended the panel’s meetings.

Dr. Stephen Ostroff, a former acting commissioner of the FDA, who serves on

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White House Blocked C.D.C. Order to Keep Cruise Ships Docked

Dr. Stephen Ostroff, a former acting commissioner of the F.D.A., who serves on the Healthy Sail group, said they have recommended that cruise passengers be tested before arriving at the ship, and then again before boarding.

“The one thing that you want to make sure of is that the virus doesn’t get on there in the first place,” Dr. Ostroff said.

Dr. Ostroff acknowledged that passengers who are exposed to the virus en route to the ship would not necessarily test negative, but could be infectious. He also said that the group’s other recommendations, such as allowing fewer passengers, enforcing mask wearing and installing improved air filtration systems, aim to limit the spread of the virus on a ship should an infected passenger board.

Brian Morgenstern, the White House deputy press secretary, denied that the administration’s cruise ship plans were politically motivated. “The president, the vice president and the task force follow the science and data to implement policies that protect the public health and also facilitate the safe reopening of our country,” he said.

Dr. Redfield is in a precarious position after weeks of public confrontations with the White House.

On Friday, he told a colleague that he was concerned that Dr. Scott W. Atlas, one of Mr. Trump’s top coronavirus advisers, was providing the president with misleading information, according to an NBC reporter who overheard Dr. Redfield’s telephone conversation on a commercial airplane.

The incident followed Mr. Trump’s rebuke of the director earlier this month, after Dr. Redfield testified at a Senate hearing that a vaccine would not be widely available until the middle of next year and that masks were perhaps even more important than a vaccine for curbing the spread of the virus. Mr. Trump told reporters later that day that he believed the director had “made a mistake.” A vaccine would go “to the general public immediately,” the president claimed, and “under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.”

The C.D.C. under Dr. Redfield’s leadership has received harsh criticism from scientists about its handling of the of the pandemic, beginning with its botched rollout of testing kits last spring. This month, The New York Times reported that political appointees in the health department had pushed through C.D.C. guidelines — despite objections from the agency’s own scientists — saying that people without symptoms did not need to be tested for the coronavirus, even if they had close contact with an infected person. The agency then updated these guidelines to recommend testing, in line with public health experts.

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Democratic chairman says White House blocked FDA commissioner from testifying

The White House blocked Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn from testifying before the House panel overseeing the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, its Democratic leaders announced Friday.  

“The American people deserve to hear Commissioner Hahn’s response to those concerns during a public hearing and what actions he is taking to ensure that the agency’s COVID-19 decisions remain science-based,” Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg acknowledges failure to take down Kenosha military group despite warnings | Election officials push back against concerns over mail-in voting, drop boxes Democrat asks intel agencies if they’re surveilling members of Congress Overnight Health Care: Supreme Court to hear ObamaCare arguments 1 week after election | NYC positive COVID-19 tests hit record low MORE (D-Calif.), who chairs its health subcommittee, said in a statement. “The White House’s muzzling of the FDA’s top scientist further injures public trust and confidence in FDA.”

Earlier this week Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy also accused the White House of blocking trade advisor Peter Navarro from testifying before their panel.

A White House spokesperson told The Hill Hahn was blocked from testifying because it’s “part of the administration’s existing protocol to make sure health officials can keep their time and energy focused on responding to the coronavirus.”

Hahn has testified before Congress four times since the start of the pandemic, the last time being in late June. Since then, three potential coronavirus vaccines moved to phase three trials, which will determine safety and effectiveness. 

Democrats have been skeptical of the administration’s vaccine efforts, which they say may be overlooking important safety measures in an effort to have results before the November elections. 

“I am often asked about how and when FDA will authorize or approve a vaccine to protect against [coronavirus]. Here is my answer: when the agency’s scientific experts have completed their review and are ready to do so, and not a moment before,” Hahn tweeted Friday. 

Late last month Hahn ousted Trump-appointed spokesperson Emily Miller after 11 days on the job amid the fallout over the agency’s decision to issue an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 patients.

Michael Caputo, a Trump-appointed Health and Human Services (HHS) communications official, announced Wednesday he was taking medical leave after making “comments that reflected poorly on the office and HHS.”

Hahn is still scheduled to appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday, alongside infectious disease expert Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: CDC reverses controversial testing guidance | Billions more could be needed for vaccine

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White House blocked FDA commissioner from testifying to House panel

Hahn, who is scheduled to testify before a Republican-led Senate panel next week, in recent weeks has worked to reestablish his agency’s independence amid pressure from President Donald Trump to deliver faster on coronavirus vaccines and treatments. Hahn ousted the agency’s top spokesperson, a Trump appointee, after a disastrous rollout of an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma. He also has repeatedly pledged the FDA will be transparent about how it evaluates Covid-19 vaccine candidates.

“I am often asked about how and when FDA will authorize or approve a vaccine to protect against [Covid-19]. Here is my answer: when the agency’s scientific experts have completed their review and are ready to do so, and not a moment before,” Hahn tweeted Friday.

Background: Hahn appears to be the most recent administration official blocked from testifying before a House panel on the administration’s coronavirus response. The White House earlier this week prevented trade adviser Peter Navarro from testifying before a House Oversight subcommittee about the administration’s use of the Defense Production Act to manufacture ventilators.

What’s next: Hahn is still scheduled to appear at a Senate HELP Committee hearing on Sept. 23 alongside infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Robert Redfield and HHS testing czar Brett Giroir.

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