In a open letter published this week, 1,044 former and current officers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, a renowned scholarship program to focusing on research and preparedness, expressed concern about the diminished role of the Public Health Agency during the coronavirus pandemic. The letter had one clear demand: Take the CDC off the bench.
The letter, which was published in the journal Epidemiological monitor, was written by doctors, nurses, researchers and other healthcare professionals who are former or current members of the EIS program. It was signed by two former CDC directors, Jeffrey Koplan, who served under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and Tom Frieden, who served under President Barack Obama.
The letter underscored the fact that the CDC provided the best available information and recommendations to the public in previous public health crises. In addition, it collected and applied research from researchers at the Agency and around the world.
But that CDC is hardly recognizable today, write the former and current agency officers. They further state that there has been an “ominous politicization and silencing of the nation’s health protection agency” during the covid-19 pandemic.
“The absence of national leadership on covid-19 is unprecedented and dangerous,” the letter said. “The American epidemic is being perpetuated by deadly transmission chains across the country. Yet states and territories are left to invent their own various systems for defining, diagnosing, and reporting cases of this highly contagious disease. Inconsistent contact tracking efforts are limited within each state’s borders – while coronavirus infections are unfortunately not. ”
This situation, according to the letter, is “chaos”, something the CDC has previously been able to avoid by working with state and local health authorities to develop national systems for disease surveillance and coordinated control.
“The CDC must be at the forefront of a successful response to this global public health crisis,” the former and current CDC officers wrote. “We urge the American people to demand and the leaders of our country to let the CDC resume its indispensable role.”
Until now, this role has undoubtedly been everywhere and certainly not in the front line. From being bullied to supporting President Donald Trump’s push reopened schools to recommend against testing asymptomatic people who had been exposed to the virus (as it later went back), the agency has not been fired for science and security, we expect it to be during a pandemic.
To be fair to the CDC, however, the dysfunction it is currently in is directly related to the hot mess that is the Trump administration, which has allegedly has interfered with CDC guidance and public communication. It is also difficult to give the best recommendations to the public, such as the absolute necessity of wearing face masks to reduce virus transmission when the country’s president makes fun of his Democratic opponent for wearing a mask. (If you all remember, Trump tested positive for covid-19 shortly after mocking former vice president Joe Biden for wearing a mask).
While well-meaning, it is hard to imagine that the letter will inspire the forces that are – also known as the Trump administration – to let the CDC do its job and protect the Americans. But even though it may now fall on deaf ears, there is a choice comes up. If Biden wins, it is very likely that this letter would have implications for his future administration and that the CDC would see its role changed.
We’ll have to wait and see.