Former CDC Heads: Trump Administration Risking Lives By Politicizing Science

Four former heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s administration is needlessly risking lives by undermining science and public health officials.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, former CDC Directors Tom Frieden, Jeffrey Koplan and David Satcher, as well as former acting CDC Director Richard Besser, excoriated administration officials for taking “political potshots” at scientists during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As America begins the formidable task of getting our kids back to school and all of us back to work safely amid a pandemic that is only getting worse, public health experts face two opponents: covid-19, but also political leaders and others attempting to undermine the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” they wrote.

They continued: 

As the debate last week around reopening schools more safely showed, these repeated efforts to subvert sound public health guidelines introduce chaos and uncertainty while unnecessarily putting lives at risk. …

Despite the inevitable challenges of evolving science and the public’s expectation of certainty, these are the people best positioned to help our country emerge from this crisis as safely as possible. Unfortunately, their sound science is being challenged with partisan potshots, sowing confusion and mistrust at a time when the American people need leadership, expertise and clarity. These efforts have even fueled a backlash against public health officials across the country: Public servants have been harassed, threatened and forced to resign when we need them most. This is unconscionable and dangerous.

The former CDC chiefs cautioned that the coronavirus is “not even close” to being under control in the U.S., despite Trump and his allies suggesting that it is, and noted that the virus has disproportionately hurt Black, Latino and Native American communities.

The op-ed comes amid growing tensions between the White House and some of the administration’s public health officials, including current CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Trump on Wednesday bashed the CDC’s nonbinding guidance for reopening schools, calling it “very tough.” Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump appointed to lead the White House coronavirus task force in February, suggested later that day that the CDC would be relaxing its guidelines. But Redfield pushed back.

“Our guidelines are our guidelines,” Redfield said Thursday, adding that the CDC would be issuing “additional reference documents” for schools.

“It’s not a revision of the guidelines; it’s just to provide additional information to help schools be able to use the guidance we put forward,” he said. 

In their op-ed, the former CDC chiefs warned that opening schools too early and without the adequate precautions in place could further the spread of the virus.

“Trying to fight this pandemic while subverting scientific expertise is like fighting blindfolded,” they wrote. “How well and how quickly we adhere to the advice of public health experts at the CDC will determine whether, how soon and how safely our schools can reopen. It is not too late to give the CDC its proper role in guiding this response. But the clock is ticking.”

Frieden served as CDC director from 2009 to 2017 under President Barack Obama. Koplan served as the agency’s director from 1998 to 2002 under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Satcher served as director from 1993 to 1998 under Clinton. And Besser served as the CDC’s acting director in 2009 during the Obama administration.

Head over to The Washington Post to read the full op-ed.

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