The Trump administration’s bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent efforts to meddle with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are taking a substantial toll on the nation’s foremost public health institution.
In interviews with half a dozen current and former CDC officials, they described a workforce that has seen its expertise questioned, its findings overturned for political purposes and its effectiveness in combating the pandemic undermined by partisan actors in Washington.
“I have never seen morale this low. It’s just, people are beaten down. People are beaten down partially by a public who not only distrusts us but who actually think we want to infringe on their civil liberties,” said one current CDC employee. “The other factor is the active undermining by senior members of our own administration.”
Those who still work at the agency requested anonymity to describe conversations among their colleagues, for fear of retribution from an administration that has punished officials who speak out.
They expressed frustration that the CDC, long an independent voice of dispassionate science, has bent to the whims of an administration that does not acknowledge the severity of a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S. They have seen guidance revised or removed — most recently this week, when the CDC took down language that acknowledged the virus mainly spreads through aerosol droplets, something the World Health Organization said months ago.
In the early months of the pandemic, senior CDC officials including Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat and Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, were sidelined after sounding the alarms over the dangers posed by the novel coronavirus.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: ‘This is my country’ Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate MORE publicly downplayed — and continues to downplay — the pandemic, questioning both his own top medical and health experts and the science that shows mask mandates and social distancing work. In private, Trump acknowledged that the virus was far more deadly, according to interviews published by veteran journalist Bob Woodward.
“As I talk to former colleagues at CDC, the feeling I get is just an overwhelming sense of despair. People are working incredibly hard to reduce the impact of the pandemic and the sense that they’re being blocked by people at the political level, and that the work that they’re doing is not being appreciated by the American public,” said Rich Besser, a former CDC director who now runs the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“The feeling right now is that public health is not being allowed to lead and to demonstrate the path forward to reduce transmission and increase…