News Gathering

White House Orders Federal Health Agency To Put Lid on High-Level Coronavirus Discussions

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Robert Redfield, depart after testifying about coronavirus preparedness and response to the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Four Trump administration officials told Reuters that the White House has ordered federal health agencies to approach “top-level coronavirus meetings” as classified, the news organization reported on March 11th, 2020. 

The officials, who wished to remain anonymous, told Reuters that documented exchanges between health officials about “the scope of infections, quarantines and travel restrictions” have been removed from public record and placed in a “high-security meeting room” at the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). 

HHS is in charge of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been monitoring the spread of the virus.

The agencies have also been told to bar any person without a security clearance from participating  in meetings, including government experts that one of Reuters’ sources said were critical to addressing the virus. 

“One of the administration officials told Reuters that when complex issues about a quarantine came up, a high-ranking HHS lawyer with expertise on the issue was not admitted because he did not have the proper security clearance. His input was delayed and offered at an unclassified meeting, the official said,” Reuters reported.

New York University Professor and longtime science journalist Daniel R. Fagin said in an email, “If the Reuters report is accurate, it’s another terribly wrongheaded decision by this administration in its response to COVID-19. Maximum transparency is essential to ensure public confidence and compliance with infection control measures.” In 2014, Fagin won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on a New Jersey town’s cluster of childhood cancers caused by water and air pollution.

White House officials have denied claims that the administration is closing off crucial information from the public. John Ullyot, an NSC spokesman, told Reuters that his agency has insisted on “radical transparency” since day one.