Sep 22, 2020 - Health

The CDC's crumbling reputation

Illustration of a PPE gown, goggles, and frown face mask
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly removed new guidance saying that the coronavirus spreads via aerosols from its website yesterday, drawing a fresh barrage of criticism.

The big picture: Concerns about the CDC's competence and politicization have only grown as the pandemic rages on.

Driving the news: The agency posted in a note on its website saying the guidance that acknowledged airborne transmission was only a draft, and had been published in error.

  • The update came months after scientists pushed for the agency to acknowledge the disease can spread through the air.
  • "CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted," the website now states.

Between the lines: The agency only last week reversed controversial guidance that said asymptomatic people don't need to be tested for the virus, after the New York Times reported that the guidance wasn't written by CDC scientists and was posted over their objections.

  • And on Friday, the NYT reported that two former top Health and Human Services officials "tried to browbeat career officials at the C.D.C. at the height of the pandemic, challenging the science behind their public statements and trying to silence agency staff."
  • Criticism of the agency began right at the onset of the pandemic, when it produced a faulty diagnostic test that ultimately prevented the U.S. from catching the spread of the virus early on.

My thought bubble: The CDC is one of many institutions on the receiving end of scathing criticism for its handling of the pandemic. But it's a jarring about-face for an agency once globally admired and generally considered immune from political interference.

What they're saying: “The consistent inconsistency in this administration’s guidance on COVID-19 has severely compromised the nation’s trust in our public health agencies," said Howard Koh, a top health official in the Obama administration, in a statement.

  • "During the greatest public health emergency in a century, trust in public health is essential – without it, this pandemic could go on indefinitely."

The other side: “As with any HHS agency, we expect the CDC to lead with science and data and communicate transparently and accurately with the American people," said an HHS spokesperson.

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