Let CDC Scientists Speak to the Public about Coronavirus

April 1, 2020
CDC
Anita Desikan
Research Analyst

Today, we’re taking action to let the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) know that the public should hear from experts about this ongoing pandemic. We’ve filed a letter to the CDC saying that restricting scientists and public health officials from speaking directly to the public on the coronavirus pandemic constitutes a violation of their scientific integrity policy. Here’s an excerpt from our letter:

All evidence suggests that CDC employees have not spoken to the media about the coronavirus pandemic in about three weeks, despite the agency containing a wealth of information on infectious disease control and surveillance. This is at odds with the CDC’s Scientific Integrity Policy (under the “Response to Media Inquiries” subsection), which states that “[i]n its communication with the public and the news media, CDC is committed to openness, free exchange of information and data, accuracy, timeliness, and responsiveness… CDC employees may, consistent with this policy, speak to members of the press about their work” [emphasis added]. Furthermore, it is inconsistent with the CDC’s Media Relations Policy (under Section 3A), which states that “CDC employees may speak to members of the media about their work as outlined in this policy” [emphasis added].

We at the Union of Concerned Scientists have noticed an ongoing pattern in the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic—scientists and public health officials from the CDC are no longer speaking directly to the public. No media interviews, no press briefings…just silence since early March. Considering that the pandemic situation is changing on a daily (even hourly) basis, it is vital that we the American people hear the latest scientific information from experts at the CDC, the agency whose mission is to save lives and protect people from health threats, including diseases like COVID-19.

Scientists and public health officials from the CDC deserve to be able to provide Americans with the unvarnished truth about the threat posed by COVID-19. Health information from scientific experts during a public health crisis can quite literally save lives, since the information communicated is designed to prevent and control the spread of the virus based on the best available science.

However, the placement of barriers to this vital communication will undoubtedly increase public uncertainty, misinformation, and mass confusion, which in turn complicates efforts for health officials to combat the disease. We therefore urge the CDC to allow its experts to speak to the media and provide us with the best available scientific information on how to protect ourselves and our loved ones during this public health crisis.