The CDC this week quietly published detailed guidelines for reopening schools and businesses that have been shut down in the coronavirus pandemic.
The 60-page document is the most extensive guidance yet offered by the health agency, which has spent weeks embroiled in controversy over how far it should go in influencing institutions’ decisions about how to open safely.
Yet it comes well after many states charged ahead with plans to lift stay-at-home orders, and as public health experts worry that the nation isn’t prepared for the next crucial phase of a pandemic that has already killed more than 90,000 Americans in just four months.
The document includes specific guidance for reopening child care centers, schools, businesses, restaurants and public transit. Among the additions is more detailed advice for mass transit that suggests encouraging social distancing by adding floor decals or colored tape to ensure people remain six feet apart.
It also lays out an extensive blueprint for containing the disease at federal and state levels through contact tracing and monitoring for outbreaks — capabilities that large parts of the county still lack.
The vast majority of states have yet to meet much of the basic criteria for reopening originally set out by the White House, including showing a 14-day decline in coronavirus cases and recording a significant ramp up in testing.
Even fewer have plans in place to create the kind of contact tracing network that the CDC in its guidance called “a core disease control measure.”
Both state and federal officials have struggled to collect consistent data on the virus’s spread, further complicating efforts to coordinate a nationwide response. And while testing overall has surged over the past week, several states well into their reopening have yet to hit their own testing targets.
“Extensive, rapid, and widely available COVID-19 testing is essential,” the CDC guidance said.
The Trump administration has encouraged a swift reopening of the U.S. over concerns about the economic toll of a monthslong lockdown, handing much of the responsibility for managing the public health response to individual states.
The CDC guidance — which is still shorter than earlier leaked versions — was reportedly delayed for weeks over worries that it was “too prescriptive,” and failed to align with the White House’s broader, more hands-off approach.
The White House initially ordered the CDC to revise an earlier draft of the reopening guidelines over worries it was “too prescriptive,” sparking concerns within the public health community about whether the Trump administration was sidelining the federal government’s health experts.
Last week, the CDC published a 38-page guidance document that appeared watered down from previously leaked versions and largely contained a set of checklists.
That version was subsequently updated, a CDC spokesperson told POLITICO, and the current, fuller guidance was published on Sunday. The agency did not issue a press release on it.
Still, the document does not include reopening recommendations for faith-based communities like churches that were included in initial leaked drafts. Trump administration officials had objected to including faith-based guidances over religious discrimination concerns.