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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

"What they put out was contrary to science," said Patty Hayes, director of public health for Seattle and King County. "We put out the statement that, in the state of Washington and King County, if you were exposed, you should get tested. We held firm to it."

The CDC updated its website earlier in September to include new information on how the coronavirus spreads. Previously, the website said it spread between people who are in close contact "through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks." The change expanded the method of transmission to include "small particles, such as those in aerosols ... "

Many research scientists said the update was in line with scientific evidence. But by Sept. 21, the update had been removed.

The CDC's webpage now reads: "A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency's official website. CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission."

Although local and state public health officials are quick to defend the dedication of the scientists at the CDC, they say that during the pandemic, the agency has behaved differently than it has in the past.

It has, for example, been far less transparent with local officials than they are used to, in some cases announcing decisions to the public before alerting public health authorities or explaining their reasoning to them.

 

That prompted the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials earlier this month to release a statement urging federal health officials to involve local and state health agencies in their decision-making.

"The failure to provide notice and pre-decisional consultation," the statement said, "has a significant impact on our work to protect the health of the American public and in fostering an atmosphere of transparency, trust and confidence between public health officials and the communities they are working so hard to serve during this historic public health crisis."

Pointedly, the statement also said federal health guidance should be based on what's "in the best interests of the public's health and not political expediency."

Dr. Rachel Levine, president of the association and Pennsylvania's secretary of health, cited a recent example of what she called the federal government's lack of transparency.

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