Washington, D.C. – At a Senate Health Committee hearing today titled, “An Update from Federal Officials on Efforts to Combat COVID-19,” U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Committee, pressed U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on why the CDC is not following proper procedures in issuing COVID-19 guidance.
“I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard; I don't anymore,” Senator Collins told Dr. Walensky. “And I want to give you three examples where I think the conflicting, confusing guidance from your agency has undermined public confidence and contradicts the scientific guidance of many experts.”
Senator Collins identified several recent occasions where shifting CDC recommendations have been at odds with or slow to catch up with the science:
1. Earlier this month, the New York Post reported that the American Federation of Teachers, a powerful teachers union, successfully secured changes verbatim in draft guidance on school reopenings.
2. This morning, a New York Times article indicated that the CDC’s announcement that “less than 10 percent” of COVID-19 transmissions occurred outdoors was highly inflated, and the actual number could be below 0.1 percent.
3. Last month, the CDC issued strict guidance for summer camps that was labeled "unfairly draconian" by the editor in chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.
“So here we have unnecessary barriers to reopening schools, exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission, and unworkable restrictions on summer camps,” Senator Collins summarized. “Why does this matter? It matters because it undermines public confidence in your recommendations, in the recommendations that do make sense, in the recommendations that Americans should be following. I'd like you to respond to why the CDC is not following the standard procedures, why it is having offline secret negotiations with one stakeholder that was revealed only through reporting in a FOIA request, [and] why it is exaggerating outdoor transmission.”
Regarding the school reopening guidance, Dr. Walensky responded that, “As a matter of practice, the CDC engages with stakeholders, with consumers, who take our guidance, who use our guidance before it is finalized, so we can understand whether it addresses their needs.” However, Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, described the email exchanges between the AFT and the CDC as “very, very troubling.” Dr. Gandhi went on to say, “This is not how science-based guidelines should work or be put together.”
In response to the critique on the rate of outdoor transmission, Dr. Walensky claimed that the CDC’s guidance was based on a “meta-analysis” that reflected the results of more than 19 studies, which showed that the top line result was less than 10 percent. According to the New York Times article, however, the flawed figure may have come from data from Singapore that did not distinguish between outdoor and indoor transmission.
Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) echoed Senator Collins’ concerns about the CDC and told Dr. Walensky, “The American people are incredibly frustrated. And as Senator Collins says, they’re beginning to disregard what you say that’s true.”