Three months after the country’s top public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, abruptly stopped holding regular briefings on the coronavirus pandemic, its director, Dr. Robert Redfield, restarted them on Friday amid growing calls for the agency to claim a more prominent role in the virus response.
The C.D.C. also released a new guidance document, “Considerations for Events and Gatherings,” that defines as “highest risk” large gatherings where it is difficult for people to stay at least six feet apart, and where attendees travel from outside the local area.
The guidance was issued as people around the country are participating in large outdoor protests of racial injustice and police brutality, and as President Trump prepares to resume large political rallies. It advises that staff members at large events be required to wear face coverings, and that attendees be encouraged to do so — in keeping with previous C.D.C. guidance on wearing face coverings in public.
Dr. Redfield ceded most of the question-and-answer session to Dr. Jay Butler, the agency’s deputy director for infectious diseases. Dr. Butler offered cautious responses to several contentious questions, including “whether C.D.C. is saying political rallies are OK right now.” Next week, Mr. Trump is planning to hold his first rally in more than three months at a 19,000-seat indoor arena in Tulsa, Okla.
“The guideline is really for any type of gathering,” Dr. Butler said, “whether it’s the backyard barbecue or something larger, and it’s not intended to endorse any particular type of event.”
He added that the guidelines were “not requirements, they’re not commands,” but suggestions for keeping people safe.
In addition to its guidance for holding gatherings, the agency released recommendations and factors to consider when resuming daily activities like going to the bank, holding cookouts and going to the gym.
It also released results of a survey of 2,200 adults around the country, particularly in New York City and Los Angeles, that found broad support for stay-at-home orders, nonessential business closures, and other measures that were taken in recent months to slow the virus’s spread.
Asked about rising rates of infection in Arizona and a number of other states, Dr. Butler emphasized that it was important to distinguish between increased case counts being a result of more testing and a new outbreak. But hospitalizations and positive test rates are also rising in several of the states seeing spikes in infection, indicating that the virus is spreading in some communities as they reopen.
Dr. Redfield emphasized that “aggressive” testing of certain high-risk populations, including nursing home residents, prison inmates and clinics that serve the urban poor, will be crucial going forward.
Calls for the C.D.C. to resume its briefings have grown louder since President Trump’s coronavirus task force stopped holding briefings more than a month ago. The agency’s routine in past health emergencies was to hold frequent, sometimes daily briefings; Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, Dr. Redfield’s predecessor, was highly visible during the Ebola and Zika crises.
But the C.D.C. stopped holding its own regular briefings about the coronavirus on March 9, shortly after one of its top leaders, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, issued a stark public warning during one session that the virus would disrupt American lives, sending stocks tumbling and angering Mr. Trump.
Since then, a number of public health experts have accused the White House of sidelining the C.D.C. And the agency, hindered not only by interference from the White House but also by aging technology and a slow, cautious culture, has not always been nimble in its pandemic response.
Dr. Redfield has given sporadic interviews during the pandemic, and held a briefing with a handful of reporters late last month, but has generally ceded the spotlight to Dr. Deborah Birx, Mr. Trump’s coronavirus task force coordinator, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
On Friday, Dr. Redfield thanked Americans “for being the individual public heroes that we need right now to fight this pandemic” by following recommendations such as social distancing, wearing face coverings in public and frequent hand washing.
“I’m hopeful that we will continue to have these dialogues,” he said.
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