Four former CDC directors said Tuesday that the Trump administration’s undermining of public health officials has led to a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections and deaths.
In a Washington Post op-ed, the former public health officials — who collectively served in the top CDC post for 15 years under presidents of both parties — accused the Trump administration of politicizing public health information, especially around the looming school year.
“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,” wrote the former CDC directors — Tom Frieden, Jeffrey Koplan, David Satcher and Richard Besser.
Trump publicly disagreed with the CDC’s school reopening guidance, saying it asked schools “to do very impractical things.” Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have made noise about, somehow, cutting funds to schools that do not reopen. Education Secretary Betsty DeVos has rigorously maintained the party line: “The rule should be that kids go back to school this fall,” she said in an interview Sunday — while dodging questions on whether schools should follow CDC guidelines.
The current CDC director, Robert Redfield, said in response to the pressure that the current guidelines would stay as-is.
The scientific work of thousands of experts at the CDC, the former directors wrote, “is being challenged with partisan potshots, sowing confusion and mistrust at a time when the American people need leadership, expertise and clarity.”
“We’re seeing the terrible effect of undermining the CDC play out in our population,” they argued. “Willful disregard for public health guidelines is, unsurprisingly, leading to a sharp rise in infections and deaths. America now stands as a global outlier in the coronavirus pandemic.”
The former public health officials called for educational leaders to follow the CDC guidance, and said more funding was needed to reopen schools safely — especially in Black, Latino and Native American communities disproportionately affected by 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.”