Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is calling for more transparency from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) if the agency “expects Americans to follow its guidance.”
Gottlieb emphasized in an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal on Sunday the importance of keeping the public informed of the reasoning behind new guidelines.
Opening his piece, he mentioned the CDC’s decision to issue new guidance about how far apart children need to be while in school.
Noting the distance has changed from 6 feet to 3 feet, the former FDA commissioner explained it “applies only to schools, not society more broadly, and only when prevalence is low and schools are taking other measures, such as keeping kids in social ‘pods.'”
“If the CDC’s guidance were applied universally — to include work and retail — that one adjustment could restore substantially more commercial activity,” he said.
While stressing the distance is “always better when it comes to contagion,” Gottlieb proceeded to suggest the 6-foot requirement might have been “the single costliest measure CDC has recommended.”
Gottlieb questioned what science contributed to the guideline, “Nobody knows for sure.”
“Most agree the guideline derives from a belief that Covid is largely spread through respiratory droplets, like flu,” Gottlieb suggested. “Old studies suggest that larger respiratory droplets are unlikely to travel more than 6 feet, and therefore close contact with an infected person is the primary mode of exposure.”
He continued, “This research was hardly conclusive, but by most accounts it formed the basis for the initial Covid recommendations. More-recent research shows that the novel coronavirus can also spread through airborne particles, known as aerosols, especially indoors.”
Gottlieb argued the reliance by some on the flu blueprint caused public health officials to both overestimate and underestimate the virus significantly.
Health officials focused more on scrubbing surfaces than investing in improving air ventilation and filtration, according to the former FDA commissioner.
“We underestimated the protective role of wearing high-quality masks,” Gottlieb also said. “Experts were trying to protect Americans, and we can’t blame them for being wrong in the absence of good information.”
When discussing how the Biden administration can help, he encouraged them to consider reforming the decision-making process.
“The agency’s guidance, even though it is nonbinding, has more impact than many regulations, but much less transparency and public scrutiny,” he wrote.
Gottlieb recognized the agency does not identify the science behind its recommendations and Americans are unaware of the basis for the initial guidance to stay 6 feet apart.
“The public is willing to follow sensible, evidence-based directions. But experts can ask people to sacrifice only so much before resistance starts to form, given the social and economic hardship,” Gottlieb wrote.
He concluded, “If the CDC expects Americans to follow its guidance, it has to be more transparent and get the public invested in how these decisions are made.”
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