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More than 1,000 current and former CDC employees condemn the US response to Covid-19

Anthony C. Fauci, Donald Trump posing for the camera

© Carolyn Custer / Associated Press

More than 1,000 current and former employees of an elite disease control program at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have signed an open letter expressing concern over the public response to the Covid-1

9 pandemic in public health and calling on the federal agency to play more central role.

“The lack of national leadership for Covid-19 is unprecedented and dangerous,” the letter, signed by current and former CDC epidemic intelligence officials, said. “The CDC must be at the forefront of the successful response to this global public health emergency.”

Among the signatories were two former CDC directors: Jeffrey Coplan, who ran the agency under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and Tom Friedon, who was with President Barack Obama.

All signatories are writing to “express concern about the ominous politicization and silence of the National Health Agency” during the current pandemic, according to a letter published Friday in the Epidemiology Monitor, a newsletter for epidemiologists.

“Today, as every day in its 74-year history, the CDC has provided the best available information and recommendations to the American public,” the agency said in response to the letter. “Since January, more than 5,200 CDC employees have dedicated themselves to protecting the health of the American people.”

Long considered the world’s leading public health agency, the CDC has typically played a leading role worldwide in responding to epidemics.

The Trump administration has sometimes been deeply involved in making scientific recommendations to the CDC during the pandemic, raising objections to guidelines for rebuilding churches and schools and wearing masks, according to The Wall Street Journal. a critical place in the working group (coronavirus), which consists of public health leaders with a wealth of valuable expertise ”.

Confidence in the agency has declined, a recent study showed. Former agency employees and other public health professionals have spoken out in defense of the CDC, arguing that it should resume its leading and science-based role by leading the national pandemic.

The EIS is known to be a two-year CDC fellowship in which employees develop disease detection cutlets while fighting on the front lines against outbreaks such as Ebola, E. coli and other dangerous pathogens.

The letter was “an expression of solidarity between our community,” said Charles Rabkin, a medical epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute and a member of the EIS class since 1984. He said he had spent several months in contact with each EIS class spanning nearly seven decades. , to collect signatures for the letter, which in his opinion was published publicly for this purpose.

The 1044 signatories represent more than 25% of current and former EIS officers dating back to the first class in 1951, he said. These include current CDC employees who are either now working as EIS employees or class members from the 1980s, he said.

Douglas Hamilton, a member of the 1991 EIS Class, said he signed the letter because he was concerned about protecting the CDC’s scientific authority. “We’ve seen mass spinning or even rewriting the CDC’s recommendations,” said Dr. Hamilton, who retired from the CDC earlier this year.

The CDC’s recommendations and leadership are critical to helping often underfunded state and local health departments respond effectively to a pandemic, said Janet Ster-Green, a public health consultant in Port Angeles, Washington, who signed the letter.

Dr Stehr-Green, a member of the EIS Class since 1984, said her team of 40 contact tracking volunteers was confused about who should test Covid-19 after the CDC made recommendations in August on who should to be tested, saying that people who had no symptoms should not have been tested, even if they had been in contact with a case.

After discussing the issue, the team decided to continue testing, said Dr. Stehr-Green. The CDC later reversed course and now says asymptomatic contacts should be tested.

“A number of steps like this have prevented us from doing the best we can,” said Dr. Stehr-Green, who has worked for the CDC as well as state and local health departments. “The CDC has written a book on epidemic preparedness and how to respond. Their experience has been neglected to the detriment of us all. “

Write to Betsy McKay at betsy.mckay@wsj.com

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