House panel renews probe into Trump administration’s muzzling of covid response

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Clyburn said the Trump administration had blocked the subcommittee’s inquiries, noting that HHS officials “failed to fully comply with two subpoenas and at least 20 document requests.”

Clyburn’s panel also released new emails Monday sent last year by former administration scientific adviser Paul Alexander, a Trump appointee who repeatedly clashed with career scientists — and called for deliberately infecting younger Americans with the virus, arguing that it would speed so-called “herd immunity” — before being fired in September. Alexander did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

In one of the emails, Alexander defended a controversial decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to abruptly revise its guidance to reduce the number of people who should be tested for coronavirus.

Under revised guidance issued last August, CDC said that Americans who had been in close contact with infected people but did not have symptoms “do not necessarily need a test.” According to Alexander, the White House supported the decision because the prior strategy was posing a risk to efforts to reopen the economy — a major priority for President Trump in the run-up to last year’s election.

“Testing asymptomatic people to seek asymptomatic cases is not the point of testing,” Alexander wrote in an Aug. 27, 2020 email obtained by the panel, adding that “all this accomplishes is we end up quarantining asymptomatic, low risk people and preventing the workforce from working.”

The CDC in September reversed its guidance on asymptomatic testing, following complaints from public health experts who said it was necessary to uncover hidden cases of the virus. Officials at colleges like Duke University cited such testing as a crucial element in schools’ ability to reopen last year.

In his letter to HHS, Clyburn calls for documents sent by at least 46 current and former health department officials, ranging from Trump appointees like former HHS Secretary Alex Azar, to career civil servants working on the coronavirus response. The Trump administration last year mostly limited its document releases to emails sent by Alexander, said a subcommittee aide familiar with the probe.

Clyburn on Monday also said that the administration “failed to provide a meaningful response” to his panel’s requests for documents on the Trump administration’s vaccination strategy.

The White House and HHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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