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More than 1,000 current and former CDC officials condemn the U.S. response to Covid-19

More than 1,000 current and former officers from an elite disease control program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed an open letter expressing dismay at the nation’s public health response to the Covid pandemic. 19 and asking the federal agency to play a more central role.

“The absence of national leadership on Covid-19 is unprecedented and dangerous,” reads the letter, signed by current and former officers of the CDC Investigator’s Outbreak Information Service. “CDC should be at the forefront of a successful response to this global public health emergency.”

Signatories included two former CDC directors: Jeffrey Koplan, who headed the agency under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and Tom Frieden, who served under President Barack Obama.

All the signatories were writing to “express our concern at the threatening politicization and silence of the nation̵

7;s health protection agency” during the current pandemic, said their letter, which was published Friday in the Epidemiology Monitor. , a newsletter for epidemiologists.

“CDC has today, like every day in its 74-year history, provided the best information and recommendations available to the American public,” the agency said in response to the letter. “Since January, more than 5,200 CDC employees have dedicated themselves to protecting the health of the American people.”

Long considered the world’s leading public health agency, the CDC typically plays a leading role globally in response to epidemics.

The Trump administration was at times deeply involved in forming scientific recommendations to the CDC during the pandemic, raising objections to guidelines for reopening churches and schools and wearing masks, the Wall Street Journal reported. A spokesperson for the administration said that “the CDC occupies a critical place in the (coronavirus) task force, which is made up of public health leaders with a range of valuable skills.”

Trust in the agency has been eroded, according to a recent poll. Former agency officials and other public health professionals have come out in defense of the CDC and argue it needs to resume its leading, science-based role at the head of the nation’s pandemic defenses.

EIS, as it’s known, is a two-year fellowship at the CDC where officers develop disease detective chops as they fight on the front lines against epidemics like Ebola, E. coli, and other dangerous pathogens.

The letter was “an expression of solidarity among our community,” said Charles Rabkin, a medical epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute and a member of the EIS class of 1984. He said he spent several months contacting each EIS class, for nearly seven decades to collect signatures for the letter.

The 1,044 who signed the letter make up more than 25 percent of current and former EIS officers dating back to the first class in 1951, he said. They include current CDC employees who are now working as EIS officials or class members dating back to the 1980s, he said.

Douglas Hamilton, a 1991 EIS class member, said he signed the letter because he was concerned about protecting the CDC’s scientific credibility. “We have seen a massive rotation or even rewriting of CDC recommendations,” said Dr. Hamilton, who retired from the CDC earlier this year.

CDC recommendations and leadership are critical to helping often under-resourced state and local health departments respond effectively to a pandemic, said Jeanette Stehr-Green, public health consultant in Port Angeles, Wash., Who he signed the letter.

Dr Stehr-Green, a member of the EIS class of 1984, said her team of 40 volunteer contact tracers became confused about who to test for Covid-19 after the CDC recalled its recommendations in August for whom. should be tested, saying that people who had no symptoms did not need to take the test even if they were in contact with a case.

After discussing the matter, the team decided to continue testing, Dr. Stehr-Green said. The CDC later reversed course again and now says asymptomatic contacts should be tested.

“A series of steps like that kept us from doing the best possible job,” said Dr. Stehr-Green, who has worked for the CDC as well as state and local health departments. “The CDC wrote the book on epidemic preparedness and how to respond. Their experience was ignored to the detriment of all of us. “

Write to Betsy McKay at betsy.mckay@wsj.com

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