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Former CDC Director Calls Trump's Ideas "Absurd"

As the President pressures schools to reopen, the onetime head of the health agency has stern words.
Close-up view of a tablet pc with CDC abbreviation

Although you're trying to enjoy your summer as best you can, all eyes are on the fall, and whether or not schools are safe to reopen. President Donald Trump yesterday blasted the CDC's guidelines for reopening schools, calling them "tough, expensive and impractical" and the agency says new guidelines will be released next week. But Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and now Vice President for Global Health at Emory University, told NPR that sacrificing public health measures could be disastrous. Here's why, in his words.

On Whether Schools Should Open This Fall

"Well, they can only make sense in the context of what else is going on in the community around them. So in sites where the disease is out of control, it's going up with a considerable velocity, then local health authorities and educational authorities have to work together and decide, is this feasible and how much risk or danger does it place students in going back to school? Have no fear, the public health community is extraordinarily eager to see students back in school for a wide range of issues, as pediatricians and school officials. But a key element in it is the caveat, as long as it is taking care of the health of the children and paying attention to risks and mitigating those risks in schools."

On the CDC's Rules Being "Tough, Expensive and Impractical"

"I guess you can make an argument out of anything but…seeing if the school is ready to protect children who have other diseases, deficiencies, et cetera, the ability to screen students and employees when they arrive at work through symptoms. Those aren't impractical. They're not tough. And they're not expensive. To use those as the basis for rejecting these guidelines is absurd. The current plan is recommending standard mitigation procedures—health and safety issues promoting hygiene, cloth masks, cleaning the rooms. These are things that we've been talking about for some time now, and to refer to those as too expensive, how can they be too expensive? We've chosen to spend our funding on airlines."

On the CDC vs. The President

"Usually, that can be addressed by discussions, by paying attention to the people who've worked on it and have experience with it. When the expertise of the CDC is ignored, as we saw in the Memorial Day loosening of activities and mitigation activities, and then we see the followup of a marked increase in cases and hospitalizations, there is a need to pay attention to both the public health community and CDC in particular. And obviously that there is a struggle in that. In my 30 plus years of being intimately involved with the agency, there are times when there's disagreement, but never such a level of public discord, which is actually troublesome for controlling the outbreak. It leaves the public saying, well, who do we listen to? And who's right. Why are these instructions fragmented? They must not be that important if people have such different views on it. And certainly in my experience over the years, if we're in different positions, that could be worked out ahead of time."

On Congress Not Providing Funding

"Well, if the person criticizing these changes, and hasn't had been advocate for the public health measures, uh, that makes it difficult for Congress and the executive branch to come to some agreement on that. In the meantime, the outbreak is getting worse by the day."

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