Crippling the Golden Goose: COVID-19, CDC, and Subverting Science

By Rear Admiral (Ret) Kenneth Moritsugu, Rear Admiral (Ret) Clare Helminiak, Rear Admiral (Ret) Julia Plotnick, and Rear Admiral (Ret) James Galloway

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photo credit: Max Pixel

For more than 70 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has protected America’s public health. Whether identifying new diseases or learning how to protect against old disease foes, CDC consistently has been the authoritative source for accurate scientific information to guard the health of all Americans. CDC’s reputation is global as health officials in other nations routinely ask, “What does CDC say?” before taking action. However, this reliability and standing are now in jeopardy.

Several of us worked at CDC constructing its scientific guidance for protecting the nation’s health. The rest of us relied on that guidance to inform and standardize the country’s civilian and military health practices and policies. We trusted CDC’s guidances because we knew they were based on the best available science. As science evolved with the understanding of diseases, we knew we could trust that CDC’s guidances were based on honest assessments of what science was telling us. During health emergencies, CDC scientists openly shared what we knew and didn’t know, what we were doing to learn more, and what the public could do. CDC scientists neither speculated nor inappropriately reassured. That reliability was maintained under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Sadly, that trustworthiness has come under siege because of the current president. In the face of this nation’s worst health crisis, this administration has chosen not to be honest with the American people about the seriousness of COVID-19 how to control its spread. The administration silenced the trusted voice of CDC because its scientists would not comply with that dishonesty, which continues to this day. With more than 218,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 and an estimated case count of nearly 7 million, the president stated, as recent as September 21, “It affects virtually nobody.”

This has cost our country dearly in the preventable deaths and illness of thousands of Americans. Had this administration heeded the advice of its scientific arsenal, rather than downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19, America would not stand today with the worst-affected nations. And Florida would not today be among the top 10 states in COVID cases per 100,000 residents.

Not only does the U.S. suffer in the context of COVID-19, our nation is further crippled because CDC is losing its most valuable attributes: its accessibility, its credibility, and its scientific authority.

This Administration’s response to COVID-19 has been to try to stifle CDC’s forthright scientific guidance that would contradict the Administration’s rose-colored narrative. As has been related through investigative reporting, Administration officials belligerently tried to censor CDC publications, made cowardly attempts to discredit honored CDC scientists, and falsely accused CDC scientists of “sedition” for the “crime” of telling the catastrophic truth about the COVID-19 pandemic. A report contradicting the use of hydroxychloroquine, touted by the President as a COVID-19 treatment, was delayed for a month. CDC was pressured to recommend against testing asymptomatic people for COVID-19, and then rescinded that guidance and acknowledged “the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission” after widespread criticism from medical and public health experts.

Thanks to repeated political interference by this Administration, health practitioners across the country question whether CDC guidance is motivated by science or imposed from above by political operatives. When safe and effective vaccines are available and CDC issues immunization guidance, this lost trust may delay acceptance, leading to additional unnecessary illnesses, further lost lives, and economic disruption.

This administration has so bungled its pandemic response by politicizing CDC’s respected scientific processes that Americans don’t know when to trust CDC. The Administration has crippled its goose that lays golden eggs, leaving a formerly respected champion of American health in its casualty wake.

This disorder and mayhem must stop, but it will take a new president and administration to correct the damage done to the CDC. We need a new commander-in-chief who will unite and base this nation’s fight against COVID-19 and other diseases on evidence-based science. We need a new leader who respects American science and will work with our health experts to defend American health. We need a president whose honesty and integrity in managing the health of this nation will serve to restore trustworthiness and eminence to the CDC.

America deserves better than this current president.

Rear Admiral (Ret) Kenneth Moritsugu is a former Acting Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS); Rear Admiral (Ret) Clare Helminiak is a former Assistant Surgeon General and Chief Medical Officer for USPHS; Rear Admiral (Ret) Julia Plotnick is a former Assistant Surgeon General and Chief Nurse Officer of the USPHS; Rear Admiral (Ret) James Galloway is a former Assistant Surgeon General and Regional Health Administrator of the USPHS.

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