Story at a glance

  • William Foege, an experienced epidemiologist and Medal of Freedom recipient, sent a letter to CDC Director Robert Redfield advising him to be honest about the Trump administration’s mishandling of the pandemic.
  • The letter serves as a barometer of the public health community’s perception of the CDC’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the nation’s most prominent epidemiologists with a history of serving under multiple administrations, both Democratic and Republican, reportedly sent an emotional letter to the current director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Robert Redfield, advising him to “face the truth” regarding the U.S. government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter, obtained by USA Today, is dated Sept. 23, and was authored by William Foege, an epidemiologist who played a critical role in the eradication of smallpox in the 1970s, and currently serving as a professor at Emory University. 

Beginning the letter by acknowledging the “terrible burden” Redfield bears, Foege blames the Trump administration’s lack of delegating the pandemic into the hands of qualified scientists as a key reason the outbreak has been so severe. 


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“The failure of the White House to put the CDC in charge has resulted in the violation of every lesson learned in the last 75 years that made CDC the gold standard for public health in the world,” he wrote. “Despite the White House spin attempts, this will go down as a colossal failure of the public health system of this country.” 

He went on to say future texts on the COVID-19 pandemic will serve as a lesson in how not to handle a pandemic. 

Foege also blames the pandemic on the “incompetence and illogic” of the White House’s initiatives, including the disjointed White House Task Force, and forecasts that the Trump administration will blame the CDC and Redfield for the U.S.’s failure to effectively respond to the pandemic. 

Some of the characteristics of the U.S.’s approach to containing the virus include a lack of a robust federal plan to contain the virus, no global cooperation, and the rejection of scientific advice –– all failings of the Trump administration, Foege asserts. 

In concluding the letter, Foege says that Redfield’s best bet at healing the CDC’s reputation is for him to resign and acknowledge the mismanagement of the agency amid federal pressure and interference. 

Foege suggests Redfield pen a letter to CDC employees acknowledging how U.S. institutions have responded poorly to the pandemic, apologize for acquiescing to the Trump administration, and outlining a course for how the CDC can move forward without political influence, mainly by establishing a system of independent oversight. 

“Don’t shy away from the fact this has been an unacceptable toll on our country,” he wrote. “It is a slaughter and not just a political dispute.”

Speaking to USA Today, White House spokesperson Judd Deere did not respond to the letter but said the CDC had not been ethically compromised. 

"This dishonest narrative that the media and Democrats have created that politics is influencing decisions is not only false but is a danger to the American public," Deere told reporters.

The letter is a strong condemnation of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, and serves as a reflection of the large public health community’s sentiments to the federal approach to the pandemic. 

Confirming that he did not want the letter to be made public, Foege told USA Today that he saw an opportunity for Redfield to help implement better public health protocols to combat the coronavirus, and felt compelled to write to Redfield following the controversial appointment of Scott Atlas to the White House coronavirus task force. 

Atlas is not an infectious disease expert, USA Today reports. He has also reportedly endorsed the controversial strategy of herd immunity, according to The Washington Post, although Atlas has denied this. 

“Going public can only embarrass him and it doesn't allow him to redeem himself,” Foege told reporters. “By doing this privately, he has a chance to do the right thing.”

The U.S. currently leads the world in coronavirus infection, reporting over 7.5 million confirmed cases, along with 210,918 deaths. 


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Published on Oct 07, 2020