Exclusive: Us Slashed Cdc Staff Inside China Prior To Coronavirus Outbreak
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WASHINGTON – The Trump administration cut staff by more than two-thirds at a key U.S. public health agency operating inside China, as part of a larger rollback of U.S.-funded health and science experts on the ground there leading up to the coronavirus outbreak, Reuters has learned.
Most of the reductions were made at the Beijing office of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and occurred over the past two years, according to public CDC documents viewed by Reuters and interviews with four people familiar with the drawdown.
The Atlanta-based CDC, Americas preeminent disease fighting agency, provides public health assistance to nations around the world and works with them to help stop outbreaks of contagious diseases from spreading globally. It has worked in China for 30 years.
The CDCs China headcount has shrunk to around 14 staffers, down from approximately 47 people since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the documents show. The four people, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the losses included epidemiologists and other health professionals.
The material reviewed by Reuters shows a breakdown of how many American and local Chinese employees were assigned there. The documents are the CDCs own descriptions of its headcount, which it posts online. Reuters was able to search past copies of the material to confirm the decline described by the four people.
Chinas embassy in Washington, D.C. declined to comment.
I Remember Crying Because I Knew What Those Changes Meant
More than 10 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 the most of any nation with deaths hovering near 240,000.
Meatpacking facilities alone account for at least 39,000 cases and 196 deaths. Two incidents this spring showcase Redfields deference to politics over protecting workers. In early April, the vice presidents office leaned on Redfield as part of its efforts to help the industry remain open, which placed vulnerable workers in harms way.
We need you to continue, as a part of what we call our critical infrastructure, to show up and do your job, Pence told beef and poultry workers during a press conference April 7. You are giving a great service to the people of the United States of America.
At the same time, the JBS beef facility in Greeley, Colorado, was experiencing one of the worst outbreaks in the state. On April 10, state and local health officials said they wanted to shut down the plant.
The next day, the state health director explained to colleagues that Redfield had called her, telling her to consider the workers critical, despite the health risks identified by his own agency.
JBS had spoken with Pences office, which in turn directed Redfield to intervene, according to emails first disclosed by the Denver Post. USA TODAY obtained the emails from Columbia Universitys Brown Institute, which has canvassed local agencies for thousands of public records.
Trump Cuts Us Research On Bat
The National Institutes of Health on Friday told EcoHealth Alliance, the studys sponsor for the past five years, that all future funding was cut.
The administrative building of the National Institutes of Health. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
04/27/2020 07:02 PM EDT
The Trump administration abruptly cut off funding for a project studying how coronaviruses spread from bats to people after reports linked the work to a lab in Wuhan, China, at the center of conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 pandemics origins.
The National Institutes of Health on Friday told EcoHealth Alliance, the studys sponsor for the past five years, that all future funding was cut. The agency also demanded that the New York-based research nonprofit stop spending the $369,819 remaining from its 2020 grant, according to emails obtained by POLITICO.
At this time, NIH does not believe that the current project outcomes align with the program goals and agency priorities, Michael Lauer, the agencys deputy director for extramural research, wrote in a letter to EcoHealth Alliance officials.
The Wuhan lab is at the center of conspiracy theories alleging that the coronavirus outbreak began when the virus escaped the facility. U.S. intelligence agencies and scientists have not found any evidence to support the rumors.
As recently as April 2018, the NIH issued a press release promoting a study linked to the research project, whose authors included a scientist at the Wuhan lab.
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Science Advocacy Groups Are Worried
For now, these moves seem mainly to be about the new administration asserting control over agencies and hitting pause on some of their current activities. Still, the changes have some scientists and transparency advocates worried.
We are concerned about reports that federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have issued directives to staff that may silence the voices of scientific researchers and others working for the federal government, Rush Holt, the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in a statement Tuesday. Our hope is that this is a temporary measure put into place until the new government agency heads are confirmed by the Senate.
The Sunlight Foundation also issued a statement adamantly opposing government measures that limit transparency and the ability of publicly funded researchers to share their work.
Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressed similar concerns in statement, saying, These actions dont just threaten scientists they threaten everyone in the country who breathes air, drinks water and eats food.
Conflicting Opinions On What Happened To The Team
In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Beth Cameron, former Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense in the NSC, wrote, When President Trump took office in 2017, the White Houses National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense survived the transition intact.
Its mission was the same as when I was asked to lead the office, established after the Ebola epidemic of 2014: to do everything possible within the vast powers and resources of the U.S. government to prepare for the next disease outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic or pandemic. One year later, I was mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like covid-19 .
On March 14, 2020, John Bolton described the changes made to the team as streamlining. He tweeted: Claims that streamlining NSC structures impaired our nation’s bio defense are false. Global health remained a top NSC priority, and its expert team was critical to effectively handling the 2018-19 Africa Ebola crisis. The angry Left just can’t stop attacking, even in a crisis.
On March 19, 2020, former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called the changes elimination. He tweeted: The Obama-Biden Administration set up the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense to prepare for future pandemics like COVID-19. Donald Trump eliminated it and now we’re paying the price.
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Climbing Cases Waning Credibility
The CDC director in the next administration will face a country increasingly distrustful of the agencys coronavirus information, nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation polling shows. The drop has been especially dramatic among Republicans, whose faith in the CDC declined by 30 percentage points from April to September.
The erosion in credibility comes as the CDC may be needed most: The agency is leading efforts to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine even as infections are surging to record numbers. Virtually all states now are reporting rising case counts.
When CDC says it, you can take it to the bank. What the administration has done, above CDC, is they have made that suspect, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. That is what makes this issue with CDC so corrosive.
When CDC says it, you can take it to the bank. What the administration has done, above CDC, is they have made that suspect. That is what makes this issue with CDC so corrosive.
In the most troubling cases this year, Redfield pressured local health officers to grant favors to politicians and businesses, records show. He has allowed political appointees outside the agency to write and publish information on the CDCs website sometimes over the objections of his top scientists and without technical review.
My staff have no respect for him, the official said.
Office Of The Assistant Secretary For Health
Diagnostics and Testing
Testing for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 is an essential component of our nations response to the COVID-19 pandemic its importance is now further magnified as states continue in their various stages of reopening. The indications for viral testing depend heavily on the stage of the pandemic and the extent of mitigation employed. In general, testing may be indicated for diagnosis of those who are symptomatic, tracing of those in contact with those who are infected, and surveillance testing of those who are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic to achieve infection control and/or other public health objectives.
The Administration has produced numerous documents that establish the strategy and specific tactics for testing in America. These include:
These will be followed soon with a number of additional guidance documents that apply the strategic principles to specific situations. In addition, the Administration is now reviewing testing plans from each state, territory, and major city public health unit, as a requirement of $10.25 billion in cooperative agreement funding distributed by the CDC.
Stage 1: Launch: Engaging the Emerging Crisis
Stage 2: Scaling and Technological Innovation
Stage 3: Support Opening Up America Again
United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
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We Have No Safety Here
After being turned back by U.S. border officials, Noeli, Valeria and Josue, the expelled Salvadoran siblings, were shuffled around Mexico by immigration authorities there, ultimately ending up in a government holding facility in the southern state of Veracruz.
Evelin, their mother in Maryland, said she frantically made all the calls she could and eventually reached a Salvadoran consular official in Veracruz who helped facilitate the release of her children. She had her daughters go back to the U.S. border, saying they were not going to be safe in El Salvador, where they don’t have immediate family members to care for them. Evelin said her adult son, Josue, did not cross with them out of fear that it would lead to the siblings being expelled to Mexico again.
In a 2 a.m. phone call, Evelin said U.S. officials told her that her daughters were going to be expelled yet again this time to El Salvador. But with the help of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights and other U.S.-based advocates, the girls were instead transferred to the U.S. refugee agency. They spent a month in two Texas shelters before being released to Evelin on September 24.
“I was very emotional to see them again,” Evelin told CBS News in Spanish. “That has been my fight, to see them again and to make sure nothing happened to them in El Salvador. I’m happy to have them here. They suffered a lot. How did they send them like that to Mexico? They suffered a lot there, during the trip, facing hunger.”
Emergency Funds Are Drying Up
Along with the missing response team, there is also the lack of a budget to contend with.
The Department of Health and Human Services has already notified Congress that it may need to transfer up to $136 million in funds to help combat the fast-moving epidemic.
This is partially because the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has already gone through the $105 million that was set aside for emergency public-health responses for infectious disease outbreaks.
Hawaii Lt. Gov Josh Green voiced concerns about the White Houses gameplan to tackle the Coronavirus issue.
The way this was rolled out is concerning. This is not the kind of thing you want to do on the fly because it creates chaos.
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Trump Fired The Pandemic Response Team
Screenshot / YouTube.
In 2018, the governments entire pandemic response chain of command was let go.
Trump shut down the global health security unit within the NSC, and the DHS epidemic team was also pushed out. No one was ever replaced.
This fact caused a ripple effect of panic in many federal and state programs while the news spread of the Coronavirus in China. If the virus was to spread in the U.S., there is no playbook on how to respond.
Why did Trump decide the pandemic response team was dispensable? Simple. It was another part of Obamas legacy that he felt the need to destroy.
Trumps Cabinet Picks Have Some Pretty Weird Views About Science Though Its Not Yet Clear How Theyll Manifest In Policy
Trumps pick for head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, is pro-industry and anti-regulation. He refers to himself as the leading advocate against the EPAs activist agenda and has long favored a state-led approach to environmental regulation. He joins Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state, and Ryan Zinke, Trumps pick for Interior, as lukewarmers or someone who wont be so crass as to claim that climate change is a hoax, and doesnt really want to fight over whether climate change is happening, but has no intention of doing much about it, as Voxs Brad Plumer explained.
Trump chose Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina to head the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaneys low opinion of science was expressed in a stunning September 9 , where he asked, … what might be the best question: do we really need government funded research at all.
The Health and Human Services nominee, Rep. Tom Price, has drawn a lot of attention for his plans to get rid of Obamacare: Hes committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with policies that would disadvantage the poor and the elderly by cutting Medicare and Medicaid.
Hes also a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a fringe conservative group with extremely alarming views on scientific matters. Heres a rundown from a Mother Jones profile of the AAPS:
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Cdc Leader Faces A Reckoning For Mistakes
In late June, Azar visited CDC headquarters to meet with senior leaders. During one closed-door session, he laid out the agencys early missteps: failures in developing a reliable COVID-19 test and in helping states control the first outbreaks.
There will be a reckoning, he told them, according to three officials in attendance.
Azar looked to Redfield to respond. Redfield paused, while those in the room waited for him to defend the agency. Then he punted to a deputy instead.
That deflection took the air out of an entire room, one of the attendees told USA TODAY.
HHS declined to comment about the meeting. In a statement, agency spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said the departments pandemic response has relied on science and never tried to force any conclusion on the CDCs data.
The American people are fortunate to have Dr. Redfield leading the CDC, she said.