Video screenshot, KTIV-TV

In an exclusive report yesterday, MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" uncovered still more political interference by the Trump administration in the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The story makes a hell of a strong case for the immediate resignation of Robert Redfield as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because he's given in to Trumpworld directives that have led the agency to promote misleading, non-science-based information about the virus and what's needed to protect Americans from the pandemic.

Specifically, Maddow and her reporting team uncovered evidence that the CDC watered down recommendations its scientists had made for dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak at a Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It's just good old document-finding, digging, and checking with agency insiders. Here's the video; be ready to be disgusted.

CDC Director's Office Ordered Softening Of Coronavirus Safety Protocols For Meat Plant | MSNBC youtu.be



A little background: Back in April, Maddow did a segment on the CDC's recommendations for improvements at the Smithfield plant. In previous public health emergencies, like the contamination of romaine lettuce with e. coli, CDC scientists providing such Epidemiologic Assistance — or "Epi Aid" — reports have always given clear, direct instructions for what growers and retailers needed to do.

But the agency's recommendations to Smithfield, where 1,294 workers were infected and four workers died, were, as Maddow put it, "hinky." For one thing, the report explicitly said the recommendations weren't mandatory, no heavens no. And each recommended action to reduce chances of infection was couched in language that gave the company an excuse to opt out: "Consider the following actions ..." "If feasible, all employees should wear the face covering ..." Employees' face masks should "cover their nose and mouth if possible," and should be "discarded and replaced when dirty or wet, if possible."

Ultimately, OSHA fined the company a whopping $13,494 for endangering employees' health. That's not a typo, that's the maximum allowed by law. Gosh, we can see why Republicans want companies to be protected from lawsuits — the regulatory agencies are clearly bleeding them dry.

Maddow thought that all sounded terribly weird coming from the CDC, and said she wanted to get to the bottom of it. And by golly, she and her reporting team did, getting a copy of the original Epi Aid Report from April 21, which ended up with the House Education and Labor Committee, and thence the Maddow show. Its language was much like you'd find in any other CDC report: Do this to keep employees at a safe distance, do this to make sure they aren't breathing sick all over each other, and so on.

But that's not the report that was submitted to the South Dakota Department of Health and cc'd to Smithfield a day later, to guide the plant in dealing with what was at the time the biggest single outbreak in the USA. That one had all the "do it if feasible / possible / you wanna" language, as well as this explicit invitation to blow off the recommendations, right at the end of the first paragraph: "These recommendations are discretionary and not required or mandated by CDC." And that's how clear declarative sentences became, as Maddow said, "all pudding mouthed." Some samples!

[Original] The employee distributing face masks should be following appropriate social distancing and wearing appropriate PPE (gloves) and facial covering.

[Revision] The employee distributing face masks should be following appropriate social distancing and wearing appropriate PPE (gloves) and facial covering, if possible.


[Original] Specifically ask employees about recent history of fever in addition to the symptoms (e.g., cough and shortness of breath) and the objective measurement of temperature.

[Revision] If possible, specifically ask employees about recent history of fever in addition to the symptoms (e.g., cough and shortness of breath) and the objective measurement of temperature.

And our favorite: "Employees who are ill should stay home, and not work or be allowed in the workplace" became "Employees who are ill should stay home, if possible, and not work or be allowed in the workplace."

And if that's not possible, they can stay and cough as much as they need to, into their dirty wet masks that they may or may not actually have or wear.

Maddow also found out where all this shit came from (7:46 in the video above):

Two sources familiar with the matter told us that the team on the ground was contacted by the office of the director of the CDC, contacted by Robert Redfield's office, and told to recall their report, to take it back, and to change the language in it to remove anything that sounded like a real recommendation.

Any "power language" had to be removed from their report. Anything that made it seem like the meat company actually had to do something.

Maddow asked, "How can you stay the CDC director if that's how you're spending your time?" Good question! She added that congressional investigators have been told that Redfield had a meeting with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on the day the order came to alter the report.

Maddow said she wasn't all that surprised that the Trump administration has interfered with the CDC in other areas, like weakening the CDC's guidance on who should be tested for the coronavirus, and this week's bizarre removal of language on the CDC website saying it's possible the virus is spread through airborne transmission, not just droplets from a sneezing MAGA rallygoer. That's what this administration does. It's bad for science and bad for America.

But to know that Robert Redfield went along with a White House demand to water down CDC recommendations in the middle of an outbreak, that's more than we should have to put up with.

I know that the Trump administration would do that. [...] What I don't expect is that the director of the CDC, his office, would actually give the order, would actually participate in the degrading of that agency and having its scientific work undercut, and its reputation and its authority torn up like this. That's not just terrible, that's intolerable.

Yep, pretty much. As of yet, the chief result of Maddow's reporting is that Dr. Redfield's Twitter posts on mask wearing and where to find information on staying safe at work (ow!) are full of calls for him to resign.

Watch, as they say, this space.

[MSNBC / KTIV / Maddow Blog CDC report (original) / Maddow Blog CDC report (watered down)]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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