Health

CDC Director Defends Agency, Which Keeps Waffling On Key COVID-19 Info

During a Senate hearing Wednesday, Robert Redfield defended the agency’s ability to provide accurate info about COVID-19 in light of its recent flip-flopping on guidance.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Commissioner Robert Redfield testifies at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on September 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. | Getty Images
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Commissioner Robert Redfield testifies at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on September 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. | Getty Images

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield on Wednesday defended the agency’s ability to provide accurate information about COVID-19. The agency’s constant flip-flopping on guidance in recent weeks has sparked concerns among lawmakers and health care workers that it could lose Americans’ trust in the middle of a pandemic.  

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) questioned Redfield during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill about whether she could trust the CDC to provide the latest, most accurate information regarding the virus. 

Murray referenced two recent cases: the CDC publishing information about the risk of airborne COVID-19 transmission, then deleting it days later because it was “posted in error,” as well as the agency’s backtracking of its widely criticised advisory last month that people who were exposed to the virus don’t need to get tested if they don’t feel sick. In its reversal of the latter advisory, the CDC said anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person should get tested.

Redfield responded that the CDC is “committed to data and science.”

 

Redfield, White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn, and assistant secretary of health Adm. Brett Giroir, testified in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Wednesday. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY), and Murray, called on Hahn and Redfield to testify earlier this month, to “thoroughly examine how political interference from the Trump Administration has impacted the agencies’ work in response to COVID-19.”

“After so many examples of political interference at FDA and CDC over the past few weeks, we shouldn’t let several more weeks pass before we get answers,” Schumer and Murray said. “We are losing valuable time to prevent costly mistakes.”

CNN has also reported that the Trump administration “pressured” the agency to make the recommendation against testing last month.

During the hearing, Redfield also said the CDC is in the process of a “very large” study to determine how widely the virus has spread across the country.

“The preliminary results in the first round show that a majority of our nation, more than 90% of the population, remains susceptible,” he said. “A majority of Americans are still susceptible.”

Redfield’s comments imply that the country is nowhere near reaching “herd immunity,” which occurs when a high percentage of the community is immune to a disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness). 

Coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci also underscored that idea while sparring with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) at the hearing about New York City’s infection rate. 

Paul claimed “they’re no longer having the pandemic because they have enough immunity in New York City." Fauci responded: "You are not listening to what the director of the CDC said, that in New York, it's about 22% [of people infected with the virus]. If you believe 22% is herd immunity, I believe you're alone in that."

Hahn, who also faced backlash last month, emphasized during the hearing that "science will guide our decision," addressing fears that Trump would expedite a vaccine to be released by the election, which many public health experts including Fauci have contradicted.

The hearing also follows the U.S. topping 200,000 deaths from the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins University Tracker.