Sidelining the CDC Means Sidelining Science
The undercutting of the CDC puts American lives in danger
The world is in the midst of the worst pandemic in more than 100 years, with the most dramatic and damaging spread in the United States. And rather than leaning on the knowledge and experience of people who have dedicated their careers to pandemic response, the White House is seeking to create new processes and bureaucratic roadblocks that will force infectious disease scientists further away from decision-making and policy formation.
Hospital data on the coronavirus will no longer go to the CDC, but will instead be routed straight to the Department of Health and Human Services. It’s a move that will make it substantially harder for the CDC — which is supposed to control and prevent the spread of Covid-19 — to do surveillance of the disease (which is critical to quelling cases and deaths) and is a sign of just how politicized the public health response has been, with the White House actively strategizing against the agency most devoted to controlling infectious disease.
I’ve covered the CDC closely through multiple past pandemics, including MERS, Ebola, and Zika. Never has the agency been more sidelined. During previous disease outbreaks, journalists — and, therefore, the American people — had regular access to the agency’s directors, as well as its many scientists.
But just because the agency was accessible didn’t make it perfect. It was under-resourced in many ways. During the Zika epidemic, for example, multiple scientists warned publicly that the United States’ ability to do surveillance on insects spreading disease was deeply lacking. This put the country at risk for current and future pandemics — and now the very scientists who were sounding the loudest warnings appear to be paying the price for them coming true.
Today, the public rarely hears from scientists within the agency or from its leader, director Robert R. Redfield, MD. And rather than bolster the CDC’s ability to do surveillance, the administration is weakening it. Harming the ability of the country’s pandemic responders to do surveillance makes the United States more vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19 and any future pandemic that is to come — whether from a flu-like virus or one spread…