Jul 14, 2020 - Health

4 former CDC heads say Trump's undermining of agency puts lives at risk

Trump and Robert Redfield

CDC director Robert Redfield and President Trump. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Four former directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blasted the Trump administration's "repeated efforts to subvert" agency guidelines related to reopening schools, accusing the White House in a scathing Washington Post op-ed of undermining science with "partisan potshots."

Why it matters: Former directors Tom Frieden, Jeffrey Koplan and David Satcher and acting head Richard Besser served in parts of the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations. They said they "cannot recall over our collective tenure a single time when political pressure led to a change in the interpretation of scientific evidence."

The backdrop: In his push to reopen schools this fall in order to help juice the economy, Trump last week criticized the CDC's guidelines as "very tough & expensive" and demanded that the agency issue new ones.

  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos then said on Sunday that the CDC guidance is simply a recommendation and that kids "cannot afford" to not return to in-person learning.

What they're saying: "Through last week, and into Monday, the administration continued to cast public doubt on the agency's recommendations and role in informing and guiding the nation’s pandemic response," the former CDC directors wrote.

  • "On Sunday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos characterized the CDC guidelines as an impediment to reopening schools quickly rather than what they are: the path to doing so safely. The only valid reason to change released guidelines is new information and new science — not politics."
  • "These efforts have even fueled a backlash against public health officials across the country: Public servants have been harassed, threatened and forced to resign when we need them most. This is unconscionable and dangerous."

The bottom line: "We're seeing the terrible effect of undermining the CDC play out in our population. Willful disregard for public health guidelines is, unsurprisingly, leading to a sharp rise in infections and deaths," the authors wrote.

  • "America now stands as a global outlier in the coronavirus pandemic. ... It is not too late to give the CDC its proper role in guiding this response. But the clock is ticking."

Go deeper: LA schools' decision to go virtual may be a nationwide tipping point

Go deeper