In an open letter published on October 16, 2020, in the Epidemiology Monitor, 1,044 former and current officers of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) criticized the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The absence of national leadership on COVID-19 is unprecedented and dangerous,” the letter said. “CDC should be at the forefront of a successful response to this global public health emergency.”
The EIS is a 2-year fellowship at the CDC in which officers gain frontline experience fighting outbreaks of diseases like E. coli and Ebola. The letter was signed by current EIS officers and former members from classes spanning nearly 7 decades. Charles Rabkin, MD, a medical epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute and member of the EIS Class of 1984, spent several months contacting each EIS class to gather signatures and called the letter “an expression of solidarity among our community.”
During the pandemic, the Trump administration has objected to scientific recommendations and guidelines for wearing masks and reopening churches and schools, eroding public trust in the CDC, according to recent polls.
The CDC has also flip-flopped its recommendation to test asymptomatic people for COVID-19, leading to confusion for contact tracers, said Jeanette Stehr-Green, MD, a member of the EIS Class of 1984 who leads a team of 40 volunteer contact tracers. “A number of steps such as that have interfered with us doing the best job that we can,” she said. “The CDC has written the book on epidemic preparedness and how to respond. Their expertise has been ignored to the detriment of us all.”
“CDC has today, as it has every day during its 74-year history, provided the best available information and recommendations to the American public,” the CDC said in response to the letter. “Since January, more than 5,200 CDC personnel have dedicated themselves to protecting the health of the American people.”