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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a telebriefing on Friday.
Director Rochelle Walensky co-chaired the chair with two career researchers. The substance was remarkable – updated COVID-19 guidelines for K-12 schools.
But even more notable was the fact that the briefing all happened.
It was the first such briefing in months, despite the ongoing pandemic crisis.
This lack of regular communication has sparked criticism of the agency. In the past few days, public health experts have called the CDC about the confusion of isolation and quarantine policies, asking the agency to communicate more frequently and clearly.
An unfulfilled promise
In fact, the Biden government has made repeated promises to put career scientists at the center of their COVID communications. However, such experts have generally not appeared outside of White House COVID-19 Response Team briefings, which are typically held several times a week but typically only include political officials, including Walensky.
It’s not the same as briefing subject matter experts to share their knowledge with the press and the public.
“The fact is that there are dedicated scientists at CDC who are experts on many of these issues around the world, and they must work with Dr. Walensky speak directly to the public, ”says Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director during the Obama administration who now leads Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative that assists governments and outside groups in epidemic prevention.
CDC is responding to these allegations of inadequate communication. The agency decided to hold the briefing on Friday, Walensky told reporters on the call, because “we had clearly heard over the past week that there was an interest in hearing independently from us.”
“It’s tough and I’m determined to keep improving,” she said. “I expect this will be the first of many briefings and I am really looking forward to it.”
Peace is on board: “I hope this is a turning point in building trust in CDC again,” he says. “The more CDC can speak directly to the public in a health emergency, using its own communication principles, the better off we are all.”
For CDC, COVID-19 briefings were unusually sparse
The idea of speaking out during a public health crisis is not new. “CDC literally wrote the book on how to communicate in a health emergency,” says Frieden. There are clear principles to be upheld, he says: “Be the first, be right, be credible, be empathetic and give people practical, proven measures to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”
Glen Nowak, who ran media work for the agency, says press conferences are an important part of their mission. “When there’s a health development that it makes sense to educate the American public and give them recommendations and guidance on what to do about it, press conferences are usually very helpful,” he says.
When the H1N1 outbreak began in 2009, “we held a press conference every day for eight weeks, including weekends,” says Nowak. “We did press conferences as long as we had something new, something that was different, it was necessary to do it.”
The idea wasn’t just to educate the public. During media talks, says Frieden, “bright journalists often ask difficult questions, and we found, ‘Oh, we didn’t say that as clearly as we intended’ or ‘we didn’t think of that, we …’ that Problem should be better addressed. ‘ “
When SARS-CoV-2 was identified in China, CDC appeared to be following the playbook.
In mid-January 2020, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, then director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, delivered the first CDC telebriefing on the subject. She was joined by another career scientist, Dr. Marty Cetron, director of CDC’s global migration and quarantine division.
“Since the MERS and SARS outbreaks, we have improved our capabilities in the US and around the world,” Messonnier told reporters. “We are now better able to respond quickly and collectively to this new threat.”
These briefings continued every few days until one of them shook America. On February 25, 2020, Messonnier warned: “That could be bad.”
“I had a conversation with my family over breakfast this morning and told my children that we as a family need to prepare for a significant disruption to our lives, although I don’t think they are at risk right now,” she said.
After their comments, the financial markets collapsed. President Donald Trump, whose message was that the pandemic was low of concern and under control, was so angry with Messonnier that he reportedly wanted her fired. The next day, he put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the White House’s coronavirus task force. Televised COVID-19 briefings have become a White House matter. The CDC director was usually absent.
The CDC telebriefings lasted a while – if only occasionally.
CDC still appears to be sidelined under Biden
President Biden took office and pledged to defeat the pandemic by restoring public confidence.
“Scientists and public health experts will speak to you directly – so again you will be much more likely to hear from Dr. Hear Fauci – not from the president, but from the real experts and scientists, ”promised Biden the day after his inauguration.
Americans certainly have a lot from Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH – the presidential chief medical advisor – and Walensky of the CDC. Both are frequent guests on TV newscasts and in White House COVID-19 response briefings, which usually take place several times a week.
But under Biden, CDC and its career scholars still seem to be sidelined. CDC has actually conducted fewer telebriefings on the pandemic under Biden.
In 2020, there were around two dozen CDC telebriefings under Trump.
In 2021 there were two under Biden.
Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at NYU, the Dr. Walensky, considered a mentor, says she was hoping to hear more from the CDC’s career scholars in the new administration.
“I would like to hear more from you – what is the science that you do? How do you proceed? How is your process? ”She says. “I think there is something that can even be put on a human face,” she adds, which the public will not get if the guidelines are changed through the CDC website.
She calls Walensky’s promise to deliver regular briefings “good news”.
Politics and the pandemic are not necessarily good bedfellows
The government appears to be treating the pandemic as a political issue that needs to be addressed politically, says Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at Yale.
“The White House needs a lot more openness and transparency, and they need to let their scientists off the leash,” he says.
A major problem can be a conflict between politics and public health.
Political messages have to be simple. But that doesn’t work for infectious disease news, Nowak says. “The situation is much more dynamic – viruses change a lot and can change in ways that make your recommendations less effective,” he says. “When communicating about infectious diseases, you really have to be aware of the uncertainty.”
However, in the 14 years he has worked at CDC in various Democratic and Republican governments, the trend seems to be for the White House to exert ever tighter control over communications.
“You have to be able to trust that the scientists and experts who run these briefings are doing what needs to be done,” he says. “And this government is not unique, not even in terms of its willingness to trust career scientists.” That said, they don’t seem to trust them very much, he adds.
Walensky’s commitment to hold more briefings “is a helpful development,” he says. “The question will be how often do they commit to holding regular press conferences, what the issues are, what the messages are.”
CDC did not respond to MediaFrolic’s question about how often the agency plans to hold agency-led briefings.
Peace hopes the CDC will keep its promise and speak more directly to the public more often.
“It’s better for everyone,” he says. “It’s better for the CDC because they can explain themselves. It’s better for the administration, because you’re better off when you have a CDC that people trust. And it’s better for the public because you understand the guide.” be able.”