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Pandemic left public health agencies scrambling to get their act together

CDC office

CDC response to Pandemic inadequate; Photo: Flickr

HQ Team

October 3,2022: As Covid-19 unfolded in the USA, the national agency mandated to protect the health of Americans struggled to provide the right guidance in navigating the pandemic, which took lives and hit livelihoods.

One recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC was to “play basketball with (their) friends — online.”

It was a bid to bring in some normalcy under challenging circumstances. But not everyone at the agency agreed with such suggestions, according to an NBC News report

“We have to have a seat at the table sooner, so we can raise our hand and say, ‘Hey guys, I’m sorry, but playing basketball virtually with your friends is probably not a great recommendation,’” a CDC staffer told the news outlet, adding, “That’s pretty stupid.”

Another staffer reiterated the frustration. “There were a number of people inside the (CDC) that were sometimes perplexed at whether what we were recommending was really practical.”

The CDC’s response to the public health crisis has come under fire from various corners, not the least being from the agency staffers themselves.

A review of CDC’s reaction to the initial outbreak of the Pandemic, initiated by CDC’s director, Dr Rochelle Walensky, headed by Jim Macrae, a Department of Health and Human Services official, found the response much short of expectations. 

The CDC, acknowledging its poor response, has published its Moving Forward report, where it states that it will, among other things, “reorganize the agency to break down silos, elevate core capabilities, and better leverage resources.”

“In our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” Walensky said during the launch of the report. 

‘Quickly but not clearly’

The CDC was battling the pandemic without a director of communications. As a result, its scientists were reportedly drafting 17-page long guidance documents.

“You can’t put 17 pages of a guidance document on a website designed for the American consumer and say, ‘Consume this,’ right?” said one person. “The idea of communicating clearly was quickly abandoned to communicating quickly with whatever you had.”

The review found that the CDC’s “silos have impeded critical, cross-cutting support functions. (The agency) must improve its internal coordination and work with external partners.”

The “CDC’s academic approach has sometimes slowed critical agency action. CDC must align incentives with public health action and impact.”

The United States’ top public health institution “would benefit from being nimbler and more flexible.”

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