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The CDC Made America's Pandemic Worse

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23.09.2021

Coronavirus

Peter Suderman | 9.23.2021 2:15 PM

The pandemic was a test of America's public health bureaucracy. It failed.

Those failures were legion, and they were spread across multiple officials, agencies, and layers of government. But no institution failed quite as abysmally as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which, through a combination of arrogance, incompetence, and astonishingly poor planning, wasted America's only chance to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 before it spread widely.

The CDC is supposed to be America's frontline institution in the fight against infectious disease. Its job is to analyze viral threats, track their spread and development, and provide the public with relevant information about how to respond to outbreaks. Not only did the agency do this job poorly in the early stages of the pandemic, but it actively hindered efforts that would have greatly improved America's response, and it made planning errors that were both predictable and avoidable. At nearly every stage of the pandemic, the CDC got things wrong and got in the way. Its failures almost certainly made America's pandemic worse.

The CDC's most notorious breakdown came early on, when it was developing a testing system to detect COVID-19. As former Food and Drug Administration director Dr. Scott Gottlieb documents in a scathing new book, Uncontrolled Spread, the agency made multiple critical errors along the way.

First, the Atlanta lab in charge of developing the test departed from the agency's own initial test, as well as the tests produced by other countries, producing a test design that was more complicated than necessary, with three components rather than two. In theory, this was supposed to make the test more accurate. In practice, it introduced an error into the early stages of the testing process during the early months of 2020, when America could least afford it.

The test kit, it turned out, was contaminated. And the part that was contaminated was the third component the CDC had decided to add at the last minute. What's more, the contamination happened at least in part because the CDC had decided to produce the test in-house, at a lab not suited for the project, rather than contract it out to private firms with more experience and more rigorous quality controls.

The contamination was not discovered until the CDC sent the botched kits out to other labs. And even as those labs increasingly reported that the system was producing obviously unreliable results, the CDC, according to Gottlieb, continued to insist in communications with the White House and the Food and Drug Administration that the tests worked. The agency eventually admitted there was a problem, but it insisted on a slow and painstaking process of updating the bad kits themselves—actively blocking private labs from taking over. So not only did the agency botch the process, but it blocked others from stepping in to fix its........

© Reason.com


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