Of all the places to work in 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be the most depressing. This should be the year in which their expertise comes to the fore. After all, dealing with pandemic disease is exactly the sort of thing they’ve planned for, gamed out, and warned about for decades. The agency is chock full of scientists and doctors who have spent their careers preparing to deal with what is happening. This should be their moment to save the nation, bury COVID-19, and run a victory lap.
But from the very beginning of the outbreak, the CDC has been involved in a game of “truth and consequences.” For example, back in February, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, warned Americans that “we will see community spread in this country” and “disruption to everyday life may be severe.“ It was very much a wake-up moment, one in which someone with authoritative knowledge leveled with the American people about the high likelihood that COVID-19 would impact them personally. It should have been the start of national mobilization to dig in against what was ahead.
And … that was also the last time Dr. Messonnier was allowed to make such a statement. Because Trump was definitely not going to allow anyone to speak the truth without there being some consequences. The day after Messonnier issued that warning was the day that Donald Trump infamously said: “You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”
It was far from the last time Trump would stomp on, distort, or simply ignore the messages coming from the agency that was designed to respond to epidemic events. It was also far from the last time that the agency would change its message or approach in order to stave off attacks from Trump. And now it seems they are doing it again … only worse.
The latest from the front lines of Trump Screws the CDC is that the agency has now come up with a brand new process on guidelines for dealing with COVID-19. That process: There isn’t one. As ABC News reports, for the last week, the CDC has simply stopped issuing new information related to the pandemic. And the latest guidelines on what should be done when it comes to testing, social distancing, or anything else is a big shrug topped off with a double dose of confusion.
The agency is now completely failing to provide the updates that hospitals and state officials count on to manage their own guidelines and plan for the future. And it’s not clear when, or if, data and guidelines will be updated again. One of ABC’s sources told them simply: "That stuff won't get updated." My fellow Americans, your CDC has been thoroughly and completely broken.
Reaching a complete shutdown of a vital agency didn’t happen overnight. After proclaiming that “I take no responsibility at all,” Trump first directed the stubby finger of blame at the World Health Organization, ultimately robbing them of both funds and participation. Then, when magic did not swoop in to end the pandemic, it was time to direct a dwarven digit at the CDC. Instead of helping that agency get in front of the pandemic, Trump insisted on an “audit” of its supposed failure.
By June, the CDC admitted that Trump’s refusal to institute any kind of national testing and case tracing program had put America into a position where hundreds of thousands of deaths were inevitable. In fact, they suggested that the level of disease in the United States had reached a point where testing generated only marginal returns.
By July, CDC scientists found that the data they had been collecting on infectious diseases for decades was abruptly taken away to be put in a private database that completely bypassed their control and starved researchers of the data they needed.
In August, in what could be the sorriest chapter of the whole affair, the White House waited until National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Anthony Fauci was actually unconscious during surgery before reversing previous CDC guidelines to state that only those people showing symptoms of COVID-19 needed to be tested for the disease, even if they knew they had been exposed. It was such a ridiculous claim that it generated an uproar. Soon enough, it became clear that CDC scientists had no hand in the change. Instead, it was made by former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo, who took over the role of spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, and by Caputo’s adviser Paul Alexander.
Life-threatening as they were, the rules that Caputo and Alexander put in place might be there still if Caputo had not then posted a completely off-the-rails commentary on Facebook in which he claimed that the CDC was home to a “deep state” conspiracy against Donald Trump and that they were planning a coup that somehow involved protests in Portland, Oregon. The next day, Caputo called a meeting in which he told his team to listen to more Grateful Dead … then he took a leave of absence and Alexander’s services were terminated. Oh, and this came after another pair of Trump appointees sent in to shape up the CDC abruptly resigned mid-pandemic and went off to form their own private consulting firm with apparently zero notice.
With all that, when it was reported in September that morale at the CDC was at the lowest point in the agency’s history, that seemed only right. But now it’s time to break out the shovels. Because now the CDC seems to be officially—and perhaps permanently—nonfunctional.
Someone please add one more to the count.