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Local health officials worry CDC has 'lost its soul'

By Christine Vestal and Michael Ollove, Stateline.org on

Published in Health & Fitness

"Public trust has really been eroded over time, and we're seeing a lot of coronavirus fatigue," she said. "When you add all this together, it's not clear whether the public is making the safest choices about their health."

City, state and county health officials have long relied on the CDC, a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to back them up when they ask the public to adopt sometimes difficult public health measures, invoking the agency's name to quell public doubts.

In Birmingham, Wilson said, "It was an extremely sad day to see what looked like the CDC being compromised. One of our great institutions appeared to have lost its soul."

During a Senate subcommittee hearing two weeks ago in which Democrats raised alarms about the politicization of federal health agencies by the White House, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield asserted that the agency adheres to science when giving public health guidance. He denied that the CDC had been influenced by political pressure.

"I am going to commit (that) we are going to continue to give Congress and the nation the best public health advice," he testified. "We're not going to let political influence try to modulate that."

HHS, in response to a request for comment from Stateline, wrote in an email: "Under President Trump, HHS has always provided public health information based on sound science. Throughout the COVID-19 response, science and data have driven the decisions at HHS."

 

The CDC did not respond to a similar request for comment by deadline.

Local public health officials say the CDC also caved to political pressure and contradicted its previous advice when it announced in August that people exposed to someone infected with COVID-19 didn't need to be tested.

That advice contradicted many epidemiologists' assertion that it is essential to test asymptomatic carriers much more extensively. Researchers think they account for at least 40% of COVID-19 cases.

The guidance, which the CDC later tempered and has since withdrawn, baffled and outraged some public health authorities. Democratic governors in at least five states - California, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina and Washington state - promptly rejected it, as did multiple national medical experts.

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