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The United States is “less safe” from the coronavirus when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not communicating regularly with the American public, a former director of the agency said Monday.

“I think it’s crucial we hear from CDC,” Tom Frieden, now the president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an advocacy group, told STAT when asked about the agency’s muted public profile in recent weeks.

The CDC’s last public briefing was March 9. Since then, there have been regular briefings at the White House by President Trump and top aides, including the CDC’s director. But the agency’s top infectious disease specialists are not briefing the public directly.

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Frieden said the CDC has continued to serve a vital role during the Covid-19 pandemic, doing “extensive work” and publishing research findings. He also suggested that the agency’s top officials tried to sound the alarm about the virus early, noting that Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on Jan. 26 that the country needed to be preparing as if it was facing a pandemic. A few weeks later, she warned that disruptions to daily life could be “severe.”

“Think back to that Jan. 26 quotation — how much better off we would be if we were prepared for physical distancing, if we had begun the production of test kits and personalized protective equipment at that time,” Frieden said, speaking in a video chat with STAT reporter Helen Branswell.

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At this point, Frieden said, ending the national lockdown now will not be easy. But he said “this is not a time to wait, this is a time to work.”

He said health officials right now are trying to “box in” the virus. That box, he said, has four corners: widespread diagnostic testing to detect the virus; the ability to safely isolate all infected people; the ability to find all people who have been exposed; and quarantining those exposed people.

“If any one of those four sides is weak, the virus will escape, will get out, and will spread widely in society,” he said. “That’s why right now, as we’re sheltering in place, we need to be urgently preparing for the next phase of the battle.”

Frieden generally warned to be cautious about technological solutions. Tracing who has been exposed to the virus could require an army of as many as 300,000 people. Quarantined and sick people may need to be given food, or hotel rooms. Technological solutions, such as tracking people’s smartphones, may help, but cannot replace the old-fashioned shoe leather effort of sending human beings out to ask people who they have been in contact with.

He also acknowledged that current tests to detect the presence of the virus can result in false negatives, in part because it is difficult to stick a long swab deep into the nose and then swirl it around to get a good sample. And serology tests, designed to detect antibodies that reveal past infection and possible immunity, vary in quality. Many of them are “junk” he said, and predicted an explosion of such tests, followed by a winnowing based on how well they work.

Watch the whole interview below.

  • Care to also include what else the CDC during that early time period?

    care to add what percentage of CDC was actually dealing with respiratory illnesses and what the vast majority was focused on instead of this pandemic.

    tell then your just a partisan hack giving cover aka Agitprop.

  • The numbers dont add up. Nobody knows what they are what to do. They aren’t testing not doing autopsies. Thing is is if they were to open things up today. We dont know who to trust. Things will never be the same. January 28 2020 trump signed a peace traty with Israel. God is mad as a wet hen. The eagle will be clipped of her wings.

  • The CDC , NIH, FDA have done all within their mandate and done it well. But the theater is under control and decisions made by the president. His grasp and execution looks too much like his reality TV role played in the “The Apprentice”. I saw parts of the show a couple of times and determined at that time I didn’t care to watch it. These briefings are not much different he continually puts down those that have expertise and knowledge for his political aspirations and to feed his ego.

  • The CDC has been muzzled by the Orange Top Bully, who will not share any limelight no matter how good the other presenters are (all more professional, educated, linguistically skilled, etc). Seems to me the CDC is not wasting time in front of cameras on a podium with a bully, but is hard at work behind the scenes. For the CDC to be effective as representative body, the top clown must be out of the picture – altogether.

  • Sadly( the standard first word for this comment column), it looks like the Center for Disease Control didn’t control this disease. The John Hopkins infection graph for the world and the USA look quite similar and a lot like an eighteen year old teenager’s erection… and it doesn’t look like it going to come down for a long time … the graph that is.

  • Sadly, the CDC became a political arm of the Communist Democratic Party of America. The group should search for a director without political connections and have credentials that addresses a broad spectrum of medical knowledge with the goal of maintaining a focus on disease preparation for the country as a whole. Think that’s not the case? Check the backgrounds and politicalization of guns, soft drinks and infectious diseases of the recent past.

    • Having that type of person at the CDC would be nice. You know what else would be nice? If we had a president that hasn’t told over 17,000 lies, dragged his feet, downplayed a pandemic, and golfed as Americans died. Blood is on the hands of Orange Julius and the Senate that chose party before country and failed to remove him when he should have been. This country has taken a massive blow once again under GOP leadership, we can only hope the eventual recovery goes well, and with a competent adult in the room come January 2021.

  • Sadly, CDC recommendations, wild forecasts, testing delivery failure, no-mask-needed failure, funnel all early testing through Atlanta failure, all militate to a quiet retreat of the Agency. We needed a George Marshall for this and got a Lloyd Fredendall instead. And that—with a CDC budget of $8 billion annually. Stand down, please. The Scott Gottlieb plan is a solid foundation for moving forward.

    • Mr Frieden is a political liberal hack, used to be nyc health commissioner under bloomberg, he always looked for controversy, was trying to ban Jewish traditional circumcision in line with libaral European laws restricted religious practice.

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