Public Communication by Government Health Officials Restricted

On February 27, 2020, Vice President Mike Pence directed members of the White House coronavirus task force to coordinate all of their public appearances and statements through his office. At the time, White House officials said that the directive was not intended to limit what task force members could say publicly, but rather to ensure their efforts were coordinated. It was, however, subsequently reported that the directive was actually intended to prevent government health experts and scientists making what the Trump administration saw as "alarmist" statements regarding COVID-19.

The New York Times reported that the directive was issued in response to the a statement by the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Dr. Nancy Messonnier on February 25, 2020, in which she warned that "community spread" of COVID-19 was expected in the U.S. and recommended social distancing measures. The statement reportedly angered President Trump, who believed that "Dr. Messonnier had scared people unnecessarily." Vice President Pence issued the directive two days later, reportedly to make clear that there should be "no more alarmist messages." 


On July 2, 2020, Yahoo News reported that the White House had repeatedly refused to allow officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to hold public briefings about COVID-19. A CDC spokesperson told Yahoo News that the agency "continued to ask for approval" from the White House to hold briefings, but "were not given approval" and "[f]inally . . . just stopped asking." The CDC held no public briefings about COVID-19 between March 9 and June 12, 2020.