Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The Trump administration informed the United Nations and Congress on Tuesday that the U.S. is officially beginning the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization. The UN is now "in the process of verifying with the WHO whether all the conditions for such withdrawal are met," according to a spokesperson.

Why it matters: President Trump's decision to formally withdraw from the UN's global health agency — which will take effect on July 6, 2021 — comes as the pandemic continues to accelerate both in the U.S. and around the world. The U.S. is by far the largest donor to the WHO out of any country, contributing more than 14% of its total budget.

  • The move will impact international responses not only to the coronavirus pandemic, but also to diseases like polio.
  • For many countries that lack critical health infrastructure, the WHO functions as their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What they're saying: "Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health," Joe Biden tweeted." On my first day as President, I will rejoin the @WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage.

  • "To call Trump’s response to COVID chaotic & incoherent doesn't do it justice," tweeted Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "This won't protect American lives or interests—it leaves Americans sick & America alone."

The backdrop: President Trump announced in April that his administration had halted funding to the WHO, accusing the agency of "mismanaging and covering up" the coronavirus crisis on behalf of China and claiming that the U.S. "has a duty to insist on full accountability."

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Why it matters: Testing shortages and backlogs underscore a need for improved mass testing for COVID-19. Diagnostic tests based on CRISPR — which Doudna and colleagues identified in 2012, ushering in the "CRISPR revolution" in genome editing — are being developed for dengue, Zika and other diseases, but a global pandemic is a proving ground for these tools that hold promise for speed and lower costs.