The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is promoting policies that will prolong the COVID-19 pandemic and, as such, states and local leaders should disregard the agency and strike out on their own. That’s according to Harold Varmus, the Nobel-prize-winning scientist and former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Rajiv Shah, the former administrator of the United States Agency for International Development and current president of the Rockefeller Foundation.
The two laid out their argument against the CDC in a searing opinion piece in The New York Times Monday, titled: “It Has Come to This: Ignore the CDC.”
Varmus and Shah’s dramatic disavowal of the country’s leading public health agency was spurred by its abrupt changes last week to COVID-19 testing guidance, which now discourages testing of people who have been exposed to the pandemic coronavirus but do not have symptoms.
Doctors, public health practitioners, and infectious disease experts roundly decried the changes, noting that evidence clearly indicates that people without symptoms play a significant role in spreading the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The president of the American Medical Association called the change “a recipe for community spread and more spikes in coronavirus.” The Infectious Disease Society of America called for “the immediate reversal” of the change.
Amid the outcry, cases of COVID-19 in the US exceeded 6 million, and recorded deaths are nearing 184,000.
“Like other scientists and public health experts, we have argued that more asymptomatic people, not fewer, need to be tested to bring the pandemic under control,” Varmus and Shah write in their opinion piece. “Now, in the face of a dysfunctional CDC, it’s up to states, other institutions and individuals to act.”
The pair lays out three actions the country should take to fill the void of “sensible guidance from the CDC.”
- State and local leaders “should be emboldened to act independently of the federal government and do more testing.”
- Insurance companies, city and state governments, and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services should recognize the importance of testing asymptomatic people and “provide reasonable reimbursement” for those tests.
- Americans everywhere should do their part to help prevent transmission with “mask-wearing, hand-washing, quarantining, and use of personal protective equipment.”
So far, it seems the majority of US states have already decided to reject the CDC’s new guidance. At least 33 states will continue to recommend testing for asymptomatic people exposed to SARS-CoV-2, according to an investigation by Reuters. Experts who spoke with the news organization said the rebellion was unprecedented in its size and yet another sign of distrust of the Trump administration and its handling of the pandemic.