I Submitted My First-Ever FOIA Request

Hey everybody! I’ve been talking about the FOIA request I submitted to the CDC over on my Twitter for a few days now, but I wanted to centralize everything!

I (and many, many other disabled people) have always been skeptical of the CDC from even before the COVID pandemic hit. Then, it hit, and the lack of transparency under two administrations is something very few of us expected. I mean, I expected it under Trump, as his whole thing (that’s been admitted to, by him, on the record) was downplaying the virus. I thought it would get better under Biden. I remember thinking “surely, it can’t be worse than this” back in 2020. It could have been, and it is. Now don’t get me wrong. Biden has fixed some things and done some things right (see vaccination rates, for instance). But, it’s still really bad.

I want to see exactly where shit went wrong. I have a particular interest in the mask mandate reversal back from May 2021 and the new community levels that were just put in place on March 4 of this year. So, I submitted my first ever FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Tue, March 29, 2022.

Now, some of you may be asking: What the fuck is a FOIA request? The Freedom of Information Act is a law that requires disclosure, upon request, of any non-exempt government information. A FOIA request is a written request for that disclosure. As I mentioned, there are nine exemptions that can prevent documents from disclosure if they are: classified for national security, details of internal rules and practices, protected from disclosure under law, trade secrets, privileged communications, privacy violations, law enforcement, financial institution information, and well locations.

Now, we have the basics out of the way. I put in an intentionally broad request to see what I can find. I requested “copies of all: 1. records starting on Jan 20, 2021, that contain information related to the CDC’s decision to remove the mask guidelines for vaccinated Americans on May 13, 2021. 2. communication (emails, internal memos, etc), starting on November 1, 2021, that led to the development and implementation of the new COVID-19 Community Levels on March 4, 2022” from the CDC. I intend to scour this data and publicize them here and in threads on my Twitter page after I review the documents. As of March 30 at 3am Central Time, my request’s status is “received.”

In these documents, I am primarily looking for the “science” they used that supported the changes to masks and community infection measurements. I am also looking to see what pressure CDC faced from the White House to revise mask guidance. If you remember, the CDC guidance came down as Biden said “COVID will be over by July 4”, so I’m looking to see if CDC was forced into the decision or if data really supported the change.

I am anticipating this process to take quite a while (as the government moves slow as molasses) and for large chunks of data to be redacted under Exemption 5(1): Privileged communications within or between agencies, including those protected by the Deliberative Process Privilege, however, it will be interesting to see what is unredacted.

I have already received praise for “walking the walk”, “getting answers”, “exposing the truth”, and so many other things. Plus, my Twitter following has almost doubled since I announced I filed. I’m honored and humbled to be in a position where I can file these requests and help get answers for the people. However, I ask you all to remember that I am still a 17-year-old. I may be a highly motivated 17-year-old, but I am still 17. So, I ask for patience as we all wait on the edge of our seats for the response, and even more patience as I work through the documents. I am anticipating receiving thousands of pages of documents, all of which I (and a few people who I have recruited to assist me) will have to manually pour and pick through for important information.

My goal in doing this is to expose where shit went wrong in a way that is understandable to people who may not be as involved as I or my friends are. That also takes time. So, I ask for patience more than anything right now.

If you are a member of the press who would like to have me write an op-ed or have your organization work with me to shed light on these documents after I receive them, please email press@derekschmitz.com with the subject line “CDC FOIA Press” and I’ll add you to my contact list for this project and send emails after I complete my review.

I can’t wait to see what all I get back! If you’re interested in keeping up with everything, follow me @derekischmitz on Twitter for short-form informal updates and threads once the info is received and through the “CDC FOIA Request” category on the site here for long-form updates and analysis.

I’m not in this for the $, but if you appreciate the work I’m doing and would like to tip me, you can find all that info here. You can also find links to my books and affiliate codes there, too! Or, if you know someone who may be interested in this, please share it with them. Thank you!

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