Four former heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday implicitly rebuked President Donald Trump, arguing the “extraordinary” efforts by him and other administration officials to diminish the public health agency’s guidance was contributing to a resurgence of coronavirus cases across the United States.
In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, former CDC directors Tom Frieden, Jeffrey Koplan and David Satcher, as well as former acting CDC director Richard Besser, fiercely criticized “political leaders and others attempting to undermine” the agency as it works to issue recommendations for schools seeking to reopen their doors for the fall semester.
“As the debate last week around reopening schools more safely showed, these repeated efforts to subvert sound public health guidelines introduce chaos and uncertainty while unnecessarily putting lives at risk,” the op-ed’s authors wrote, adding that while “it is not unusual for CDC guidelines to be changed or amended” during a multi-agency clearance process, “it is extraordinary for guidelines to be undermined after their release.”
The condemnation from the former CDC chiefs comes after the president last Wednesday disavowed the agency’s school reopening guidelines as “very tough & expensive,” and threatened to slash federal funding to schools that do not physically reopen.
At a news briefing of the White House coronavirus task force hours later, Vice President Mike Pence announced the CDC would produce “additional guidance” this week, while CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield maintained he would not alter the agency’s recommendations based on Trump’s show of disapproval.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has joined Trump in aggressively pushing for students to return in-person to classrooms in the fall, described the CDC guidance on Sunday as “common sense” but emphasized that it merely represented a set of best practices for local education officials to model.
On Wednesday, the former CDC chiefs noted that during their combined 15-year-plus period leading the agency under Democratic and Republican administrations, they could not “recall over our collective tenure a single time when political pressure led to a change in the interpretation of scientific evidence.”
The op-ed’s authors also lamented that the “sound science” offered by the CDC’s thousands of public health experts “is being challenged with partisan potshots, sowing confusion and mistrust at a time when the American people need leadership, expertise and clarity.” Such “[w]illful disregard for public health guidelines is, unsurprisingly, leading to a sharp rise in infections and deaths,” they wrote.
Trump launched new attacks against the CDC and his administration’s most senior health officials as recently as Monday, prolonging his feud with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the veteran director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most, that we are told to trust,” politically conservative former game show personality Chuck Woolery wrote on Twitter in a post shared by the president.
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