When the nation’s most-respected infectious-disease investigators take the time to write down some advice as the president rushes to reopen the country during a raging pandemic, it seems only sensible that you’d listen very carefully to what they have to say.
But, according to a report from the Associated Press, the White House decided to block the publication of this 17-page document from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team. It lays out exactly what measures restaurants, schools, child-care facilities, and other public places should take if they decide to reopen their doors in the coming weeks.
The report, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was written to help all kinds of people such as religious leaders, business owners, teachers, and local officials as the president and some state leaders rush to reopen.
Shortly after the document emerged, The New York Times reported that White House officials had pushed back on the guidelines and asked for revisions because they thought some had too much regulatory language. The Daily Beast confirmed the pushback with an official working with the coronavirus task force.
The Daily Beast reported on the contents of the document last month. As of late April, the CDC, in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had finalized the guidelines. The document, officials said at the time, was incredibly intricate and showed how states could begin to open summer camps, restaurants, bars and religious centers. Officials inside the CDC said they had been working on the guidelines for several weeks and anticipated that the White House would release them to states in the following days.
The Associated Press reported that the document had been slated for publication last Friday—but that scientists at the CDC were then told by the White House that it “would never see the light of day.”
Well, they were wrong—here it is.
It’s not clear why the White House decided to block its publication. Some of the report’s advice appears on federal websites, but the guidance in the report is much more detailed and tailored to different types of establishments. The White House published its own “Opening Up America Again” advice last month, but its guidance is much more general than the CDC team’s forensic document.
A source said to be close to the White House’s coronavirus task force reportedly told AP that White House officials were reluctant to offer such specific advice to people because they believe different parts of the country will need different advice depending on how hard they have been knocked back by the coronavirus pandemic. As of Thursday morning, more than 73,000 Americans have been reported to have died from the virus, according to numbers from Johns Hopkins University.
As the document shows, the CDC’s guidance sets out exactly what precautions people should take when reopening schools, restaurants, summer camps, churches, and day-care centers, among other establishments. It also includes detailed flow charts designed to be used by local officials so they’re prepared for difficult scenarios after reopening, such as if an employee becomes sick.
In specific advice for restaurants and bars, the report states that owners should install sneeze guards at cash registers to protect their staff, and completely avoid having buffets, salad bars, and shared drink stations. It also says that tables should be spaced at least six feet apart and encourages the use of digital apps to let diners know when their table is ready so they don’t need to handle a buzzer device that may not be clean.
Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told AP, “You can say that restaurants can open and you need to follow social-distancing guidelines. But restaurants want to know, ‘What does that look like?’ States would like more guidance.”
Despite the White House’s best efforts, they now have it.