Four former heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an op-ed in The Washington Post on Tuesday decrying President Donald Trump and members of his administration for pushing politics ahead of public health when dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Specifically, the four former CDC directors — Tom Frieden, Jeffrey Koplan, David Satcher and Richard Besser — denounced actions by White House officials to obfuscate recommendations for schools and parents when classes across the country resume this fall.
In their opening paragraph, the former directors noted that “public health experts face two opponents” when it comes to trying to determine whether schools should reopen or not, and how to safely do so: “COVID-19, but also political leaders and others attempting to undermine the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” they said.
They added that there have been “repeated efforts” from the Trump administration “to subvert sound public health guidelines,” which “introduce chaos and uncertainty while unnecessarily putting lives at risk.”
Last week, after Trump blasted guidelines from the CDC on how schools can safely reopen during the pandemic for being too burdensome, Vice President Mike Pence announced that new guidelines would be authored. Current CDC Director Robert Redfield, who was not among those in The Washington Post op-ed, later corrected Pence, saying that the guidelines wouldn’t be changed but rather supplemented by new material.
The former directors commented on that situation.
“It is not unusual for CDC guidelines to be changed or amended during a clearance process that moves through multiple agencies and the White House. But it is extraordinary for guidelines to be undermined after their release,” they wrote.
“The only valid reason to change released guidelines is new information and new science — not politics,” the former CDC directors added.
The former heads of the agency stated that they could not remember “a single time” when they were in charge, collectively, “when political pressure led to a change in the interpretation of scientific evidence.”
The former directors also blasted Trump’s leadership during this time in a general sense. The U.S.’s failure to address the disease the way other countries around the world have successfully done is a “tragic indictment” of efforts from the healthcare community and the CDC, they said.
They also noted that reopening schools would hurt some students more than it would others.
“Black, Latino and Native American communities have suffered disproportionately during the first six months of the pandemic. We cannot let this same tragedy unfold this fall in our schools,” the former CDC heads said.
The administration’s efforts to hinder scientific recommendations in favor of their preferred way of reopening schools was the wrong way to go, the former directors concluded. “Trying to fight this pandemic while subverting scientific expertise is like fighting blindfolded,” they wrote.
It’s unlikely that Trump will be swayed by the op-ed from previous CDC directors. On Monday, the president shared a tweet that derided “most” doctors and the CDC itself for purportedly “lying” about aspects of the pandemic, without providing examples of what exactly they had lied about.
In spite of Trump’s apparent skepticism of doctors and his own health agency, Americans overall do not view him in a positive light for how he has handled the health crisis. An ABC News/Ipsos poll published on Friday found that 67 percent of Americans said they disapprove of how Trump has (or hasn’t) managed controlling the spread of COVID-19.
As of 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time, more than 3.37 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease, accounting for a quarter of all documented cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 135,000 in the U.S. have died as a result of contracting COVID-19.