“What is not legitimate is to ignore science,” he said.
Often, Mr McGowan and Ms Campbell mediated between Dr Redfield and the agency’s scientists when the demands and dictates of the White House came in: the changes from Mr Vought and Kellyanne Conway, the former adviser to the White House, on choirs and communion in religious communities, or suggestions from Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and aide, on schools.
“Every time science clashed with the message, the message won,” said McGowan.
The episodes of interference have at times become absurd, they said. In the spring, the CDC released an app that allows Americans to screen themselves for symptoms of Covid-19. But the Trump administration has decided to develop a similar tool with Apple. White House officials then demanded that the CDC erase its app from its website, McGowan said.
Ms Campbell said that at the start of the pandemic, she was confident the agency had the best scientists in the world, “just like we have done in the past.”
“What was so different, however, was the political involvement, not only of the HHS but then of the White House, which in many ways hampered what our scientists were able to do,” she said.
Senior CDC officials have devised workarounds. Instead of posting new guidelines for schools and election officials in the spring, they released “updates” to previous guidelines that avoided formal scrutiny from Washington. This prompted Washington officials to insist on reviewing the updates.
Brian Morgenstern, a White House spokesman, said that “all proposed directives and regulations with potentially significant effects on our economy, society and constitutional freedoms receive appropriate consultation from all stakeholders, including task force doctors, other experts and administration officials.
A spokesperson for the CDC declined to comment.
Mr. McGowan and Ms. Campbell both attended the University of Georgia and saw their CDC position as a homecoming. Mr McGowan said the two institutions he revered most as a child in Georgia were the CDC and Coca-Cola.