Top Senate Republican says 'structural reforms' needed at CDC for next health threat

Top Senate Republican says 'structural reforms' needed at CDC for next health threat
© Greg Nash

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrBipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor Bipartisan group to issue 'promising' statement on infrastructure path forward First responders shouldn't have to tackle tigers MORE (R-N.C.) issued a scathing memo criticizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) response to the coronavirus pandemic, calling for “structural” reform of the agency following what he called “mistakes” responding to COVID-19.

“Structural and cultural reforms at CDC are needed to ensure the organization is modern, nimble, mission-focused, and able to leverage cutting-edge science so that the United States is better prepared for the next threat that will come our way,” Burr, the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wrote in a five-page brief.

“The CDC is responsible for providing clear, concise information to the American people on public health threats like emerging infectious diseases. This information is only as effective as its messengers and its leaders. Throughout the pandemic response and across two administrations, CDC has provided delayed, conflicting, and confusing guidance on the ways in which Americans understand, respond to, and protect their families from the effects of COVID-19,” he added.

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Burr specifically cited what he said were delays in the issuing of guidance regarding mask wearing, pointing to guidance issued in May saying that fully vaccinated people could stop wearing masks and social distancing after confusion over what actions were safe for fully vaccinated people.

The North Carolina Republican said the issues could be traced back to “the organizational culture and sprawling structure of the agency.”

“Over the course of 2020, our scientific understanding of COVID-19 and the appropriate public health interventions to prevent spread of the virus evolved rapidly and continues to change in 2021. However, public health agencies must still provide clear guidance that is transparent in its explanation of the science and the reason for the change in recommendations so that the American people continue to trust in and rely on public health officials at the federal, state, and local level,” he wrote.

Burr’s report included a number of recommendations, including cobbling together a “strategic plan” that considers “statutory requirements, overall mission, and how each program fits within the larger agency mission,” as well as new partnerships with nongovernmental organizations that “will help CDC leverage their capacities and capabilities, especially regarding the need for new technology and information systems.”

Burr’s review is just one of several being conducted on Capitol Hill into the CDC’s handling of the pandemic.

Republicans have torn into the organization over what they say was a slow response by the organization and have said the CDC’s guidance failed to keep up with recommendations from public health experts that suggested rules around social distancing in places such as schools could have been more relaxed.