In a scathing letter sent late last month as coronavirus cases and deaths surged across the United States, renowned epidemiologist and former CDC chief Dr. William Foege called on the agency’s current director to publicly speak out about the Trump administration’s catastrophic failure to combat the pandemic and apologize for caving to the White House’s influence — even if it means risking his job.
“You could upfront, acknowledge the tragedy of responding poorly, apologize for what has happened and your role in acquiescing, set a course for how CDC would now lead the country if there was no political interference, give them the ability to report such interference to a neutral ombudsman, and assure them that you will defend their attempts to save this country,” Foege wrote in a September 23 letter to Dr. Robert Redfield, who was appointed by President Donald Trump.
“Don’t shy away from the fact this has been an unacceptable toll on our country,” the former CDC head added in the letter, which was published late Tuesday by USA Today. “It is a slaughter and not just a political dispute.”
Foege, who served as CDC director under both Carter and Reagan, acknowledged that denouncing the White House would prompt a furious response and likely result in his firing. “When they fire you,” Foege wrote, “this will be a multi-week story and you can hold your head high. That will take exceptional courage on your part.”
But the risks of saying and doing nothing in the face of the Trump administration’s deadly handling of the pandemic far too high, Foege said.
“Despite the White House spin attempts, this will go down as a colossal failure of the public health system of this country,” Foege wrote. “The biggest challenge in a century and we let the country down.”
Since Foege sent his letter last month, coronavirus infections have continued to rise across the U.S. and the nation’s death toll has surpassed 210,000 — a fact that prompted no change in policy or rhetoric from the Trump administration, which has repeatedly meddled in the work of government scientists, downplayed the pandemic, and ignored the advice of public health experts.
“The public health texts of the future will use this as a lesson on how not to handle an infectious disease pandemic,” wrote Foege. “The cause will be the incompetence and illogic of the White House program.”