White House Reportedly Overruled Health Officials Travel Recommendation for Seniors

In a new report, a federal official apparently told the Associated Press that The White House overruled health officials who wanted to recommend that elderly and physically fragile Americans be advised not to fly on commercial airlines due to the COVID-19 virus.

The official spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity.

In a tweet, the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence – who is leading the U.S. response team to the virus – said “it was never a recommendation to the Task Force” and called the AP story “complete fiction.”

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention briefly had it up on its website before taking it down and tempering its advisory. Instead of saying seniors and the physically fragile not fly, it now reads that older adults and people with severe medical conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease to “stay home as much as possible” and avoid crowds. The warning did not address flying.

Following a meeting Saturday with cruise line executives, Pence also tempered his thoughts and did not address the airlines when he said, “If you’re a senior citizen with a serious underlying health condition, this would be a good time to practice common sense and to avoid activities including traveling on a cruise line.”

COVID-19 has caused more than 100,000 illnesses in 90 countries, and more than 3,500 deaths.

As the AP noted, the flu-like viral illness causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But — like the flu — it can cause pneumonia and be much more lethal to people made frail by old age and by conditions that make it harder for their bodies to fight infections.

Dr. Tom Frieden, a former CDC director, said that while the risk in the U.S. remains low, the conversation still needs to take place.

“We are going from the calm before the storm to the beginning of the storm,” said Frieden, who now heads Resolve to Save Lives, an organization promoting global public health

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