Jan 16, 2021 - Health

CDC director defends agency's response to coronavirus pandemic

Dr. Robert Redfield
Robert Redfield. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Outgoing CDC director Robert Redfield told NPR on Friday that he was proud of the agency's response to the coronavirus pandemic and that he disagreed with his incoming successor's conclusion that the "gold standard for the nation's public health — has been tarnished."

Why it matters: The CDC has faced sharp criticism throughout its nearly year-long response to the coronavirus pandemic over several issues, including some of its messaging and guidance, which has been described as inconsistent and confusing.

What he's saying: "I'm actually very proud of the response that CDC has done. I think if I have one criticism that I do believe is significant is the importance of consistency and unity of message." Redfield told NPR's "All Things Considered."

  • "I think it would have been, you know, preferred as a nation in April when we recommended [face coverings] — and I started wearing a mask and all of us at CDC did and the doctors within the coronavirus task force did — it would have been very helpful if that was reflected by civic leadership throughout our nation ... rather than, unfortunately, what appeared to be, this critical public health measure somehow got used as a political football," Redfield added.
  • When asked by NPR's Mary Louise Kelly how he would respond to an opinion piece in the New York Times by Rochelle Walensky, his incoming successor, in which she wrote that her team of "scientists will have to work very hard to restore public trust in the C.D.C., at home and abroad, because it has been undermined over the last year," Redfield said:
    • "That's just not true. The men and women at CDC are highly respected across this nation and around the world. Clearly, there's no doubt that the lack of reinforcement and support from some individuals in the administration of the public health message had impact. But CDC continues to be the premier public health agency in the world."

Redfield also warned that the U.S. is "about to be in the worst of it" when it comes to the pandemic.

  • "I think if you'd listened to my comments in August and September, I told people that I really thought that the, December, January and February were going to be the roughest time this nation's ever, ever experienced from a public health point of view in the history of our nation."

The bottom line: "This has been one of the greatest crises that this nation's had. There'll be plenty of time, I'm sure, in the years to come to figure out who could have done something better. All I can say from the time I got to be CDC director is that I did the best that I can," Redfield concluded.

Go deeper: Listen to the interview on NPR

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