A former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health titan who led the eradication of smallpox asked the embattled, current CDC leader to expose the failed U.S. response to the new coronavirus, calling on him to orchestrate his own firing to protest White House interference.
Dr. William Foege, a renowned epidemiologist who served under Democratic and Republican presidents, detailed in a private letter he sent last month to CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield his alarm over how the agency has fallen in stature while the pandemic raged across America.
Foege, who has not previously been a vocal critic of the agency’s handling of the novel coronavirus, called on Redfield to openly address the White House’s meddling in the agency’s efforts to manage the COVID-19 crisis and then accept the political sacrifice that would follow. He recommended that Redfield commit to writing the administration’s failures — and his own — so there was a record that could not be dismissed.
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“You could upfront, acknowledge the tragedy of responding poorly, apologize for what has happened and your role in acquiescing,” Foege wrote to Redfield. He added that simply resigning without coming clean would be insufficient. “Don’t shy away from the fact this has been an unacceptable toll on our country. It is a slaughter and not just a political dispute.”
The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for Redfield’s response. Redfield, an HIV/AIDS expert and former military physician, lacked experience running a public health agency when Trump selected him to head the CDC in 2018.
White House spokesman Judd Deere did not respond to the contents of the letter but said in a statement that the CDC has not been compromised. “This dishonest narrative that the media and Democrats have created that politics is influencing decisions is not only false but is a danger to the American public,” Deere said.
MORE: How the CDC failed public health officials fighting the coronavirus
Foege’s Sept. 23 letter, which was obtained by USA TODAY and has not been previously reported, is a striking condemnation from a legendary public health figure who has spent decades helping prevent the spread of diseases while earning the respect of peers.
In an interview, Foege said he felt compelled to write to Redfield after the White House appointed Dr. Scott Atlas to the coronavirus task force, even though he is not an infectious disease expert.
The Washington Post and other outlets have reported that Atlas has endorsed the controversial strategy of herd immunity, although Atlas has denied doing so.