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Science Communication

CDC sidelined by White House in coronavirus briefings

by Andrea Widener
May 21, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 20

President Trump watching as CDC director Robert Redfield speaks at the White House.
Credit: Michael Reynolds/CNP/AdMedia/Newscom
CDC director Robert Redfield (right) speaking at a White House press conference with President Donald J. Trump.

During past disease outbreaks, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has taken center stage in communicating research and health recommendations. But the CDC has been pushed aside by the White House in communication about the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new analysis of press briefings by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a science advocacy group. For the 2016 Zika, 2014 Ebola, 2009 H1N1, and 2003 SARS epidemics, US presidents gave a combined total of 7 briefings, compared with 68 by the CDC. In contrast, President Donald J. Trump’s White House held 50 press events in the first 13 weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with just 19 for the CDC; the CDC has held no briefings in the past 2 months. CDC officials have occasionally been present and made remarks at White House briefings. “When previous presidents were challenged with epidemic disease, they put the experts out front, and let CDC do its job of informing the public,” Anita Desikan, a UCS researcher, says in a statement. “The scientists have been sidelined and political officials have put themselves in between the facts and the public.”

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