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OPINION

Put the focus on sound science and saving lives

The Examiner

The effect of any political influence in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic can only be harmful, yet it appears to be happening at all levels.

State and local health departments seem to have dragged their feet at times in providing pandemic information. Gov. Mike Parson failed to acknowledge the recommendation made to him privately by Dr. Deborah Birx for the White House Coronavirus Task Force to impose a statewide mask order when Missouri was in the “red zone” for new cases. An area county health department defies both state and federal guidelines regarding quarantines.

Nationally, multiple reports involving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal health agencies show likely attempts to exert political influence on reports, recommendations and actions.

Areas of concern nationally include:

• A surprise change in testing recommendations for people who had contact with infected individuals. The CDC went from recommending testing to saying those exposed didn’t need testing if they were asymptomatic, shocking medical experts.

• News posted on the CDC website citing potential spread of the coronavirus through small airborne particles, not just by respiratory droplets. When news about the warning came out, it was quickly taken down. Officials say it was a draft posted in error.

• The back and forth between the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn and those scientists involved in the effort to create a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine versus the White House regarding the approval process for the vaccine and the speed with which the nation could expect one.

Some of these issues on various levels of government may involve mistakes in the rush to act, or they may result from disagreements about the intersection of science and policy. But multiple news outlets reporting recently confirm there have been efforts to let politics overrule sound science in the COVID-19 response.

Recent reporting shows the administration pressed recommendations on the CDC that were written by political officials with no science background, then inserted into the agency’s guidelines over the objections of its scientists. Further, reporting finds that political appointees within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have demanded to delay, review and revise scientific reports on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New York Times reported, “Current and former senior health officials with direct knowledge of phone calls, emails and other communication between the agencies said ... meddling from Washington was turning widely followed and otherwise apolitical guidance on infectious disease ... into a political loyalty test, with career scientists framed as adversaries of the administration.”

We cannot afford this. Lives depend on sound science and the best recommendations for our response in terms of contagion prevention, treatment and eventual immunization. Health agencies at all levels have to reliably follow the best science available, to be transparent and to provide clear information to the public as it is gathered. Leaders must refrain tainting the process with political considerations.

Their concern must be protecting Americans and saving as many lives as possible.

– The Joplin Globe