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CDC guidance should be based on science, not politics

CDC guidance should be based on science, not politics

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Confusion is making us sick. On Sept. 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance on its website that suggested aerosol transmission might be one of the “most common” ways COVID-19 is spread.

That following Monday, Sept. 21, the information was removed and replaced with this statement: “A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website. CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the updated language will be posted.”

Why is this important? Because if this virus is spread through aerosol transmission (aerosol particles are smaller than respiratory droplets, can linger in the air, move with air currents and can travel farther than 6 feet) that means we might have to take more precautions.

There was also the CDC’s reversal on whether people who have been exposed to the virus should get tested. Initially, the agency said people who had been exposed don’t have to get tested. Now CDC guidance recommends testing for people who have known exposure in order to stop the virus from spreading.

As if these aren’t confusing enough times, having the CDC continually reissue guidance is making matters worse. It’s become too politicized and not based on enough scientific research. And since we’re more than half a year into this pandemic, shouldn’t scientists presumably know more now than they did previously?

Last week, the U.S. hit a grim milestone: 200,000 dead of coronavirus. Based on predictive modeling from the University of Washington, that number likely will double by the end of the year, according to a story by the Associated Press.

By comparison, the CDC reported that 675,000 died from the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. But science then wasn’t what it is today. Perhaps neither was the political landscape.

Instead, let’s let the scientists do what they were trained to do — study this virus and hopefully find a vaccine to protect us from it. The CDC doesn’t need to play politics. It’s only ruining its credibility.

“The consistent inconsistency in this administration’s guidance on COVID-19 has severely compromised the nation’s trust in our public health agencies,” said Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who also served as assistant secretary for health during the Obama administration, in a statement Sept. 21.

“To rectify the latest challenge, the CDC must acknowledge that growing scientific evidence indicates the importance of airborne transmission through aerosols, making mask wearing even more critical as we head into the difficult fall and winter season.”

As Halloween and the holidays are just around the corner, folks might be getting antsy about social distancing. But Nancy Bell, population health manager for the West Piedmont Health District of Virginia Department of Health, said we must remain vigilant.

“These numbers for COVID have got to stay down as we approach flu season because if they are allowed to rise at a time when the flu comes on … it’s a perfect storm for making sure our doctors and our hospitals cannot handle the capacity,” Bell said. “If you get COVID or you get the flu, your immune system is compromised and, it could be deadly.”

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