Public Health Expert: If CDC Director Can’t Lead Agency Amid COVID, He Should ‘Step Aside’

Public Health Expert: If CDC Director Can’t Lead Agency Amid COVID, He Should ‘Step Aside’


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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The federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been hobbled by the Trump administration’s decision to sideline the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from an active role, according to a public health expert.

Most recently, the administration rejected CDC guidelines for reopening the nation’s economy from its lockdown conditions in place to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The administration criticized those guidelines as too prescriptive.

“I grew up as a public health person loving and admiring the CDC, arguing and believing that it is the best public health agency in the world. And the scientists are still there. But in this entire pandemic, it’s been one fiasco after another,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “And it’s either possible that all of scientists all of a sudden forgot their science, or there’s something at the leadership level that’s really hindering them. And my theory is, it is much more the latter.

“We’ve just seen it repeatedly, they messed up the testing. They haven’t collected the data. The guidance that you’ve been laying out has been mushy and often not evidence-based. And my sense is that the leadership in the CDC has been side-lined in a way that is really, really harmful to the American people,” added Dr Jha.

The pressure is on Dr Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, to assert himself and his agency, Dr Jha said.

“Yes, so the good news is all of the great people at the CDC, most of them are still there, they have hung on, and so when I look at who is still hanging in, the top scientists, they’re still there, so we don’t have to like bring them back. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they’ve been muzzled. And they are not getting to do what they know how to do well. And we have to find a way to unmuzzle them,” he said. “We have to find a way to let them do their job. And I don’t know who does that. Congress? I think public pressure, all of those things, would help. Ultimately, I think Dr. Redfield who was the appointed head of the CDC, I think he has to look himself in the mirror, and ask, is this the public health agency he wants to lead, in the greatest pandemic in a century?

“And if he can’t do it, he should step aside, and make sure that somebody else can lead that agency, and help the American people get through this period,” Dr Jha added.

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