Doctors Say the Coronavirus Has Ruined the CDC's Reputation

From poor communication to botched data, medical experts say the agency dropped the ball.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been the the go-to resource of information and guidance regarding all things coronavirus throughout the pandemic. The agency is where everyone from average American citizens to government officials at both the state and federal level would turn to for help making sense of the unfolding health crisis. And while people were turning to the right place—this is what the CDC is designed for—poor communication and multiple mistakes have led many to lose their their faith in the agency. According to a recent piece in The New York Times, that is especially true amongst the country's medical experts and health professionals.

"Here is an agency that has been waiting its entire existence for this moment," Peter Lurie, MD, a former associate commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration who worked closely with the CDC, told The New York Times. "And then they flub it. It is very sad. That is what they were set up to do."

As reported in The Times piece, medical professionals' frustration with the CDC's handling of the pandemic started all the way back in February. With thousands of Americans returning from China on planes landing in U.S. airports across the country, the agency attempted to hold these potential carriers of coronavirus in a few selected cities for screening and instruction on self-quarantine, which would then be followed by close monitoring of infected patients. If executed effectively, the U.S. may have gotten a head start on containing the virus, potentially avoiding what turned into a pandemic and an utter shutdown of the country. Unfortunately, an antiquated notification system used by the CDC delivered incomplete or inaccurate information to airports, leading to a mass scramble to identify and locate passengers.

"It was insane," Sharon Balter, MD, director at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, told The New York Times. The mass confusion eventually saw the CDC's system temporarily going offline completely, halting the delivery of important data and resulting in potentially infected travelers getting through without being screened.

Another major misstep that had medical professionals livid with the CDC came months later, just as certain states were beginning the process of reopening. The news broke that CDC made the critical error of combining antibody and viral test results into one metric, essentially rendering the information useless in doing so. The results, however, did not go unused. In fact, several states used the flawed data as a basis for their reopening plans. Though the agency copped to the mistake, the medical community was no less beside itself with frustration.

"You've got to be kidding me," Ashish Jha, MD, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said to the The Atlantic regarding the error. "How could the CDC make that mistake? This is a mess." Jha added that by combining the two types of results, the CDC has made them both "uninterpretable."

The CDC, it should be noted, is not without its share of supporters in the medical community. According to what Amy Ray, MD, an infectious disease specialist in Cleveland, told The New York Times, the agency didn't "get enough credit."

"They are learning at the same time the world is learning, by watching how this disease manifests," Ray said.

As far as how it views its own efforts during the pandemic, the CDC said in a statement to the The New York Times: "CDC is at the table as part of the larger U.S. government response, providing the best, most current data and scientific understanding we have."

Many in the medical community, however, remain skeptical that's actually the case. "The CDC is no longer the reliable go-to place," Jha told The Times. And for developing news about the fight against COVID-19, check out This Is How Long a Coronavirus Vaccine Will Make You Immune.

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