Washington (CNN)As the coronavirus pandemic stretches past its ninth week, tensions are rising between the White House and the nation’s leading public health agency. In interviews with CNN, senior administration officials in Washington, as well as top officials at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta describe a growing sense of mistrust and animosity between the White House and CDC over how quickly the US should reopen and how the government tracks data on the virus.
In particular, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator for the President’s coronavirus task force, has become increasingly critical of the CDC, making clear in recent meetings that she is more than frustrated with the agency, according to two senior administration officials. Specifically, Birx believes the way the CDC gathers data on the coronavirus is antiquated, causing inaccurate and delayed numbers on both virus cases and deaths.
Birx has expressed her agitation during recent task force meetings, where at least one conversation between her and CDC Director Robert Redfield has grown heated, according to a source close to the task force. Birx and Redfield have known each other for decades, due to their work on HIV research together. And while Birx defended Redfield to their peers earlier this year over the CDC’s faulty test kits, her tone toward him has shifted dramatically in recent weeks, according to multiple officials and a source close to the task force.
There has also been significant tension between the White House and CDC over guidelines on how to reopen the country.
Last week, Redfield was forced to apologize to administration officials after a draft of the CDC’s guidelines to reopening America were leaked to the media. The 68-page document outlined a detailed approach for how states, businesses and individuals could safely ease back into normalcy and were far more strict and detailed than the White House’s own road map toward a return to normal, a CNN review found.
On Thursday the CDC published just 6 pages of graphics labeled “decision trees” as updated guidance. After spending “innumerable hours” on the guidance draft of recommendations, which they say was asked for specifically by Dr. Birx, two senior CDC officials tell CNN that the White House decision to shelve it for now in favor of a 6-page outline has only added to mounting frustration toward Birx within the CDC.
Tension between Birx and the CDC was first reported by the Washington Post.
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