Former CDC head: Trump policy resulted in coronavirus ‘slaughter’
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during a Senate hearing on the federal government response to COVID-19, on Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington. | Alex Edelman / Pool via AP

WASHINGTON—The former head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. William Foege, is telling the current CDC chief, Dr. Robert Redfield, to resign in protest over the GOP Trump regime’s politicization of the agency on how to combat the coronavirus pandemic—and tell the country why in an open letter to CDC’s workers.

The politicization is so bad, adds Foege—the epidemiologist who headed the team that rid the world of smallpox—that the result is “an unacceptable toll on our country. It is a slaughter and not just a political dispute.”

“The best decisions are based on the best science while the best results are based on the best management,” Foege said in a Sept. 23 personal letter to Redfield, later leaked. “The White House has rejected both science and good management.”

“They manipulated the reputation of the CDC by changing items on the website and changing recommendations for workers in slaughterhouses, etc.,” Foege said later in the letter.

The result has been the human and economic toll of the pandemic from COVID-19, the official name for the coronavirus, Foege contends.

As of 5 p.m. on Oct. 7, that death toll is 211,536, equal to the population of Fayetteville, N.C., and 7.536 million people testing positive for COVID-19. The number of ill equals the combined populations of Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Jose. The economic impact is a 32% decline in annual terms in gross domestic product—the record by far—and more than 26 million people currently collecting state or federal jobless aid.

Dr. William Foege, the former director of the CDC, seen here receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2012, is urging current CDC head, Dr. Robert Redfield, to expose the Trump administration’s failures on coronavirus. | Charles Dharapak / AP

Health experts and politicians have criticized the CDC, considered the U.S. “gold standard” in providing health data and disease treatment recommendations, for wavering back and forth on everything from how to prevent infection to when and whether to reopen schools and businesses in the face of the COVID-19 plague.

Foege’s letter makes clear the wavering is due to pressure from the Oval Office occupant, Trump, and his push to restart the economy as fast as possible, regardless of the viral plague.

“You could, upfront, apologize for responding poorly, acknowledge…your role” and “set a course for how CDC would now lead the country if there was no political interference,” Foege recommends to Redfield. Redfield has yet to officially respond to the personal “Dear Bob” letter.

The CDC’s role in fighting the coronavirus was supposed to be vital, due to its past reputation and comprehensiveness. But the interference is so great that CDC’s credibility as the authority on infectious diseases is shot and people now turn to other sources, such as academics, for reliable information.

That’s in character for Trump, who has built a reputation for political interference with non-partisan decision-making and rejection of scientific research on everything from global warming to the causes of ravaging forest fires.

And Trump keeps up that drumbeat of interference even though he tested positive for the virus himself and was hospitalized for three days, and treated with oxygen and advanced medicines unavailable to other COVID-19 sufferers.

Foege says Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic has inflected an “unacceptable toll on our country.” This Aug. 31, 2020 photo shows some of the nearly 900 large poster-sized photos of Detroit victims of COVID-19 that were displayed on Belle Isle in Detroit during a mass funeral. | Carlos Osorio / AP

“The first thing would be to face the truth,” Foege wrote Redfield. “You and I know that despite the White House spin attempts, this will go down as a colossal failure of the public health system of this country. The biggest challenge in a century and we let the country down. Public health texts will use this as a lesson in how not to handle an infectious disease pandemic.”

Trump interference, including from the White House task force on the pandemic, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, was expected to be a major topic in the Oct. 7 debate between Pence, seeking re-election with Trump, and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the Democratic VP nominee. Foege’s letter does not mention the campaign.

“The cause will be the incompetence and the illogic of the White House program,” Foege wrote. “The White House has had no hesitation to blame and disgrace CDC, you and state governors” who, though Foege did not say so, had to step into the breach and battle the pandemic when Trump didn’t.

“In six months,” in other words, since the CDC officially declared the pandemic, “they have caused CDC to go from gold to tarnished brass.”

Foege said CDC’s failure forced questioners to seek data from academics, and governors to scramble on their own to battle the virus. “The absolute need to form coalitions” and work with other nations to battle COVID-19 “has been ignored as the president thrives instead of causing divisions.”

That’s in direct contrast to what happened when Foege and his team conquered smallpox.

“It was our ability to refocus India from herd immunity to attacking the virus that allowed smallpox eradication to succeed,” he wrote. India was the last center of smallpox. “ Herd immunity is now the newest White House “solution” for curbing COVID-19.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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