ATLANTA - As the US pandemic death toll climbs above 200,000, Dr. Tom Frieden, who was CDC Director for 7 years under President Obama, says he's become increasingly concerned the Atlanta-based health agency and its scientists are being sidelined.
Frieden, now the CEO of the organization "Resolve to Save Lives," says he has watched as the agency he once led has been criticized, sometimes by the President Trump himself, for a response, Dr. Frieden says, is a failure.
"This really stems from not following the science, not having an organized systematic response, and not communicating effectively with Americans," Frieden says.
Still, he says, the fault is not the CDC's.
"I feel like blaming the CDC for their failures is like blaming someone who has been tied up and encased in cement for failing to swim," Dr. Frieden says. "It's not that the CDC and public health hasn't succeeded, it's that they haven't been allowed to play the role that they usually play, keeping Americans safe."
Frieden admits the CDC has stumbled at times, especially early in the pandemic.
The first test kits distributed to states were faulty, delaying the roll-out of testing.
"They've definitely made some mistakes," he says. "The testing in particular didn't go well."
The agency has also sent out conflicting messages about who should be tested and how the virus is spreading.
Twice in that last month, it has released and then removed new guideline from its website.
Communication, Frieden says, has been a major challenge for the agency over the last seven months.
In past outbreaks, like the H1N1 flu, the CDC held weekly, sometimes daily, press briefings explaining the agency's evolving response.
After holding several media briefings in early March, the agency abruptly stopped.
Dr. Frieden says, the CDC has been largely silenced from communicating with Americans by an administration, he says, is eager to move on from this virus.
"It's not going to go away on its own," Dr. Frieden says. "Even if we have a vaccine, there is no fairytale ending to this pandemic.”
The only way out of this pandemic, he says, is together.
“The only enemy here is a virus, not other people, and the more we're divided, the more people divide us, the virus will continue to conquer us,” Frieden says.