Trump 'Unnecessarily Putting Lives at Risk' During Pandemic, Former CDC Directors Say

Four former directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly criticized President Donald Trump on Tuesday, saying the president was "subverting scientific expertise" and "unnecessarily putting lives at risk" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Former CDC heads Tom Frieden, Jeffrey Koplan, David Satcher and Richard Besser collectively penned an editorial in The Washington Post, with the headline warning: "No president ever politicized its [the CDC's] science the way Trump has."

The article focused on Trump's pressure campaign on state and local officials to send children back to school in the fall. The president has also criticized CDC guidelines laying out the best way for schools to reopen safely, arguing that the measures are too costly and unnecessary. Frieden, Koplan, Satcher and Besser argued that Trump's effort to undermine CDC guidance was "extraordinary."

"As the debate last week around reopening schools more safely showed, these repeated efforts to subvert sound public health guidelines introduce chaos and uncertainty while unnecessarily putting lives at risk," the public health experts wrote.

"Through last week, and into Monday, the administration continued to cast public doubt on the agency's recommendations and role in informing and guiding the nation's pandemic response," they added.

Robert Redfield and Donald Trump
President Donald Trump and CDC Director Robert Redfield participate in a daily briefing on the coronavirus at the White House on April 22. On Thursday, Redfield said that his agency's guidance would not change, despite the president's criticism: "Our guidelines are our guidelines." MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty

Notably, current CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said on Thursday that his agency's guidance would not change, despite the president's criticism. "Our guidelines are our guidelines," Redfield said.

"One of the many contributions the CDC provides our country is sound public health guidance that states and communities can adapt to their local context—expertise even more essential during a pandemic, when uncertainty is the norm," the former directors wrote in their editorial.

"We're seeing the terrible effect of undermining the CDC play out in our population. Willful disregard for public health guidelines is, unsurprisingly, leading to a sharp rise in infections and deaths. America now stands as a global outlier in the coronavirus pandemic," they continued.

The U.S. continues to be the country with the highest number of novel coronavirus infections and deaths. As of Tuesday morning, the U.S. had confirmed well over 3.3 million infections and more than 135,000 deaths—representing roughly a quarter of the global totals. Meanwhile, European and East Asian nations have largely curbed new infections and flattened their curves while infections have reached record-highs in the U.S. over the past couple weeks.

"Sadly, we are not even close to having the virus under control. Quite the opposite, in fact," the former CDC directors wrote. They said that "trying to fight this pandemic while subverting scientific expertise is like fighting blindfolded."

White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere told Newsweek in a statement that the administration has put the health and safety of Americans first throughout the pandemic.

"The White House and CDC have been working together in partnership since the very beginning of this pandemic to carry out the President's highest priority: the health and safety of the American public. The CDC is the Nation's trusted health protection agency and its infectious disease and public health experts have helped deliver critical solutions to save lives. We encourage all Americans to continue to follow the CDC's guidelines and use best-practices they have learned, such as social distancing, face coverings, and good hygiene, to maintain public health and continue our Transition to Greatness," Deere said.

A White House Coronavirus Task Force official said that "the administration is grateful for the men and women of the CDC and the integral role they have played in the whole-of-America response to the novel coronavirus."

Newsweek reached out to the CDC for comment, but it did not respond by the time of publication.

Polling by Axios and Ipsos published on Tuesday showed that just over 7 in 10 Americans see sending their children back to school in the fall as a large or moderate risk. That includes 82 percent of Democrats and a slim majority (53 percent) of Republicans. Despite the concern, Trump's Department of Education has insisted that children returning to schools is safe.

"The science is clear: Schools can reopen safely in the fall. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that students are going to be better off attending school in person than they would be staying home," Department of Education press secretary Angela Morabito said in a Monday statement to Newsweek. "Schools must be prepared to deliver a full school year of learning beginning in the fall."