A key Senate Republican on Thursday issued a critical review of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s handling of the coronavirus, faulting “mistakes” at the agency for setting back the nation’s response to the pandemic.
“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,” Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wrote in a five-page brief shared with The Washington Post.
Burr blamed poor communication and the agency’s “sprawling structure” for its missteps such as the CDC’s conflicting data on how many coronavirus tests were performed early in the pandemic.
Ahead of the next pandemic, Burr called for the CDC to develop a more robust strategic plan, arguing that its public-facing plans lacked details, and that the agency should pursue “strategic partnerships” with nongovernment organizations. He citied its failure to roll out effective coronavirus tests in February 2020.
“The delays related to the original CDC-developed test put our country days, if not weeks, behind in our ability to test for and track the spread of the novel coronavirus within the United States,” wrote Burr.
Burr’s review is one of multiple inquiries underway by lawmakers of both parties who say they want to ensure the CDC is better prepared to respond to the next pandemic — although with clear partisan splits. Democrats have rallied around shoring up the agency, such as by investing in better data systems and preventing the political interference that occurred during the Trump administration.
Republicans have focused more on how the agency arrived at its recommendations to combat the pandemic, saying it was too slow and too accommodating to special interests such as teachers’ unions.
“I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard; I don’t anymore,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told CDC Director Rochelle Walensky at a hearing earlier this month, citing the agency’s “conflicting, confusing guidance” on whether schools should be open, if masks needed to be worn outside and what protections summer camps should institute.
Burr also has begun a bipartisan effort with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, to craft legislation intended to improve the nation’s public health response.