We need the real CDC back, and we need it now

During this critical time, early hot spots like Washington state and New York City were unable to test for the virus. During the inexplicable number of weeks it took to figure out what went wrong, we could have easily adopted the WHO test, which was developed in Germany and is being successfully used in 126 countries around the world. This setback in testing — driven by defects in the CDC’s Covid-19 test and other bottlenecks and regulatory hurdles — is a major contributor to our national lockdown and the fact that thousands of Americans have needlessly died of this virus.

Beyond its testing failure, the CDC has been slow and its response inadequate in another area where it has always excelled: evidence-based guidance. Throughout this pandemic, it has been slow in coming, confusing, and not necessarily evidence-based.

The agency was slow to suggest that we should end large gatherings. As masks for health care workers became scarce, it recommended that health care workers wear bandanas and scarves with zero evidence that these would protect workers from the virus. Investigative reporting has uncovered unclear and disorganized communication to state public health agencies. And the CDC’s restrictive early testing guidelines did not necessarily align with what was understood about disease symptoms and risks at the time.