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Melinda Gates told "Axios on HBO" that the Trump administration has neutered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and continued to bungle its coronavirus response, concluding that only a "lack of leadership" explains why far more people have died in the U.S. than in other developed countries.

Why it matters: The comments mark the sharpest rebuke yet from the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has emerged as the largest funder of the World Health Organization after the U.S. yanked funding earlier this year.

Gates said she had never seen a health issue anywhere in the world be as politicized as COVID-19 has been in the U.S.

  • "We've had — terrible leadership on this issue quite frankly. And science should never be politicized. Science is about getting at the truth."

The big picture: Back in May, Gates gave the administration a "D-" grade for its coronavirus response and said there has been "no improvement" in the intervening months.

  • "We shouldn't have 50 different responses in the United States," she said. "You should have a coordinated national plan. The CDC was set up originally to give sound medical guidance to health and county commissioners. The CDC has been neutered to not be able to do its job."

Gates also said it was a "tragedy" that the U.S. pulled funding from the WHO in the middle of the pandemic. While "not perfect," Gates said the WHO was set up to handle global pandemics.

  • "You just don't pull out of WHO in the middle of a crisis," she said.

The bottom line: Gates stopped short of endorsing a candidate in the upcoming presidential election. "We're always tempted," Gates said with a laugh. "But it's important for us as private citizens to, you know, keep our votes to ourselves and for our institution to be nonpartisan."

  • Asked if she expects the November election to be a free and fair one, Gates said she is hopeful. "I think we're all kind of holding our breath and watching," she said.
  • "It's all of our jobs to make sure that we say that's what we expect and that's what we want and can have as an American people. ... There may be some updating that needs to happen to our system when this is over for sure."

Go deeper

22 mins ago - Health

CDC mask guidance sparks confusion, questions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The CDC's surprise guidance last week freeing the fully vaccinated to go maskless sowed plenty of concerns across the country— even earning the Saturday Night Live treatment for all the questions it spurred.

Why it matters: With plenty of Americans still unvaccinated — and without any good way to confirm who has been vaccinated — some experts worry this could put many at increased risk.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

In photos: Israel-Hamas aerial bombardments enter second week

A ball of fire and a plume of smoke rise above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on May 17. Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

Israel and Hamas continued aerial bombardments into Monday morning, as fighting entered a second week.

Why it matters: The worst violence in the region since 2014 has resulted in the deaths of 197 people in Gaza, ruled by Hamas, and 10 in Israel. 58 Palestinian children and two Israeli children are among those killed since the aerial exchanges began on May 10, Reuters notes.