CDC Delenda Est

It would be possible, without a huge amount of effort, to write chapters on how the CDC has persistently endangered the public via favoring political expediency, commercial interest, and sheer laziness over public health. And bear in mind that any single chapter documenting the CDC’s abject dereliction on a critical Covid issue would be sufficient to justify razing the agency. Oh, and Lambert has already done a great deal of this work; Naked Capitalism could easily cobble together a book-length indictment from its archives.

I am entirely serious in the recommendation that the CDC, which now has about 32,000 employees, be shut down and a new body or bodies created in its place. It is imperative that any new Federal public health agencies have no more than 20% of their staffers come from the CDC.

I challenge readers to identify any company or government body with more that 20,000 members that was at CDC-level dysfunction and has been turned around. Even CalPERS at a mere 3000 employees looks irreparable.

We’ll discuss two new entries on the CDC’s rap sheet. The first is that the CDC only now is planning to launch a new “forecasting center”. Mind you, this comes as the agency has repeatedly acted as if Covid is over, as in so harmless if you are vaccinated that Americans collectively should stop thinking about it. From the Associated Press:

The new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics launched Tuesday. Its leaders say predicting the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. has been hampered by data-collection problems.

In contrast, the United Kingdom uses regular population sampling with swab tests and blood draws to get a clearer picture of who’s been infected, said Marc Lipsitch, the new center’s science director. He said similar sampling should be considered in the U.S.

And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention needs to have better access to data from state governments and hospitals, said Caitlin Rivers, the center’s associate director.

CDC has been granted temporary authority for COVID-19 data collection, but the agency broadly relies on voluntary reporting and complex data agreements with states, Rivers said.

I am about ready to break china.

This humble blog has said from the get-go that the CDC’s primary role is to be a data shop, and incoming chief Rochelle Walensky needed to make fixing that a top priority. Given the CDC’s dependence on state public health agencies for many key inputs, Walensky should have sought their public health leaders out immediately, either inviting them to Atlanta or going out to meet them. No such outreach occurred. Had Walensky shown interest in their needs and impediments, and either gotten funding for them in the huge CARES package, or offered CDC resources and templates to shore up their efforts, it would have helped increase accuracy, timeliness and completeness of reporting.

It is particularly frustrating to see the CDC only now take up the obvious idea that the UK implemented in 2020: of large-scale (100,000 each) population-wide testing (I believe swabbing as well as blood tests) every five to six weeks to determine disease prevalence. For instance, these so-called REACT surveys enabled the UK to estimate, based on the rate of decline in antibody levels, that immunity from infection lasted only about six to eight months.

The second fresh outrage is the CDC’s Emily Litella “Never mind” on masks in airplanes and airports.

Now admittedly, the Biden Administration threw the CDC under the bus by saying it would appeal the ruling nixing the mask requirement for airports and airplanes and some other forms of transportation if the CDC wanted to. The CDC instead wimped out and made a limp-wristed statement that it recommended that passengers continue to mask up.

In other words, the CDC is not going to go to court to try to preserve its ability to mandate masking in the future, even though many experts claimed the ruling was a legal train wreck and by implication, would have decent odds of being contested successfully upon appeal.

But like just about everything related to Covid, the CDC and Biden approach has exposed the worst weaknesses of the professional-managerial class, a strong tendency to think that story-telling is the same as analysis and problem-solving, a reluctance to change course (as in the appearance of consistency is more important than being effective), and a belief that the public is a bunch of dumb sheep who are only at most entitled to be told what to do and deserve to be beaten when they don’t comply.

Recall that the CDC and WHO mislead citizens from the get go by presenting masks as unhelpful, when their real reason for that message was that they wanted to preserve procedure masks for health care workers. Ukraine, a poor country, has managed to gin up a world-dazzling propaganda operation. Why was the CDC incapable of conveying simple messages, like during wild type, to make or buy cloth masks, better yet with filters in them? Or when Delta became dominant, that its much greater infectiousness meant that procedure masks were no longer good enough, that double masks or KN/N95s were now necessary?

Now there is a case to be made against the plane mask mandate: it was poorly conceived, and it was never presented as essential to protect airplane and airport personnel. During wild type, mere cloth masks were sufficient. But once Delta struck, passengers should have been required to wear better masks, with the airport/airlines providing them. And airlines should have been required to impose sanctions other than barring passengers from future flights or turning around and having them removed from the plane at the originating airport. For instance, the airlines could have posted gradated punishments for passengers that defied warnings, like ones that took masks off during flights via pretending to be needing to sip some water. They could be handed an airline warning sheet that they would only be assigned a middle seat (or if in first class, the aisle bulkhead seat) on future flights for a year, or would lose a grade of elite status. Similarly, New York City did a vastly better job of messaging the need to wear masks over noses via numerous signs.

But of course, it’s not hard to surmise that the CDC, like the PMC, is done with masks, even though Covid could still mutate into something more lethal that will necessitate aggressive containment measures. Walensky said so when she compared continuing to wear a mask with wearing a scarlet letter, a sign of having committed a mortal sin.

Not only was the transportation rule half-assed content-wise, but it was also procedurally flawed. The judge who slapped it down did have a point in finding the CDC had not gone through a proper rule-making process, with a 60 day comment period. We’ve argued that the since the transportation masking rule was best conceived as worker protection, it would have been better to have been drawn up as an OSHA rule…with the added benefit that OSHA has tons of experience in devising masking rules for various workplace hazards, and would be ideally positioned to devise something suitable. The Biden Administration could have used an executive order as a placeholder while the OSHA rule was being finalized and put through a rulemaking process if needed.

But Team Biden seems to hold OSHA in the same low esteem as it does unions; after all, the sort of workplaces where OSHA rules are important are the nasty blue collar sort. So when OSHA devised what was widely reported as a careful and well thought out set of workplace Covid rules, which included ventilation, the Biden Administration swept that aside in favor of its scientifically unfounded employer vaccine mandate which the courts nixed.

So the CDC acted as if the public should accept masking because it said so, and even when that landed like a flat balloon, failed to counter with a PR campaign to sell masking. And that should have included Biden jawboning elected officials and TV talking heads to mask up. Reader vlade reported that in the Czech Republic, despite general low trust in government, widespread masking on TV broadcasts (and even repainting of billboards to include masks) led to early widespread mask wearing.

But as Lambert and we’ve called out ad nauseum, the CDC instead has conveyed the opposite message, as of last May’s “Mission Accomplished,” that masks were only for the unvaccinated deplorables. And continued elite non-use, no doubt so they can show off their status markers of cosmetic dentistry and surgery, reinforces the idea that only the poors need to mask, and then only so as not to infect their betters.

On the one hand, we can expect that our supposed leaders will pay for all of this with shorter and more miserable lives than they would have had due to Covid health damage. But since that can include cognitive impairment, we’ll also have on average even dumber people in charge.

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  1. Samuel Conner

    riffing on some comments yesterday, it’s almost as if it’s actually the Center for Dissemination of Contagion

  2. Acacia

    I’d suggest simply DC delenda est, to take out all problems in one shot, but the CDC HQ is in Atlanta.

    1. Kevin Walsh

      For what it’s worth, Wiktionary says that centrum is a second declension neuter noun, but I don’t know whether there’s an official Latin translation of the CDC that would take precedence.

  3. Gumnut

    Masks & Aerosols:

    NC is clearly onboard with COVID being aerosol driven, not droplets.

    Masks’ virus transmissibility is a function of pore size, material depth & material hydrophobicity.

    Aersols come in a size distribution and a sizeable fraction is smaller than even N95 = droplets containing virus can pass.

    Ah, the amount A bigger than poresize aerosol droplet (water, snot + virus) gets caught on material. But then a dynamic equilibrium will evaporate big droplets and smaller ones can carry virus (suction from breathing) past the mask.

    Plastic fibers = hydrophobicity drives water from droplet = making droplet small enough to continue.

    N95 protection against small aerosol droplets spread virus will be minutes at best. After that you will slowly suck any caught virus into inhaled air. You would need a mask with tight seal & much larger safety reservoir volume to have any impact on population R values.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Sorry, your extrapolations are incorrect. This shows transmission times with various mask types under the highly infectious Omicron. N95 masks are indeed highly protective:

      With infections surging due to the Omicron variant, physicians are now urging people to ditch cloth face masks and instead recommend pairing cloth masks with surgical models or moving on to stronger respirator masks— WSJ Health (@WSJhealth) January 6, 2022

      Sadly the image proper won’t embed, but it shows that even with Omicron, it takes a person with no mask 2.5 hours to transmit Omicron to a person wearing an N95. And this table is assuming a non-fitted N95. A tightly fitted one is vasty more protective. The best mere mortal improvement is to tape the nose bridge area.

      1. Hayek's Heelbiter

        Pore size doesn’t matter with masks coated with viruferrin, which nukes ALL types of viruses.
        And HEPA size doesn’t matter on UV-C air sanitizers, which do likewise.

    2. Samuel Conner

      > Masks’ virus transmissibility is a function of pore size, material depth & material hydrophobicity.

      N95s have static electric charges on the material microfibers and these charges induce electric dipoles on particles passing through, and then attract the particles to stick, and stay stuck, to the material fibers. It’s “electric monopole-induced dipole” interaction.

      You can see this at work at micro-scale with your own eyes if you run a comb through a pet’s fur to develop a static charge, and then pick up dust with the comb. The same principle is at work in N95s, at a smaller scale.

      This is why N95s are much more effective than lower-tech masks whose materials rely only on the two properties you mention.

      Give N95s for Mother’s Day.

    3. RookieEMT

      I might be mistaking this for respirator cartridges but over time masks become more effective as virus and other particles are trapped in the filter and slowly build even more resistance to incoming air. You can tell over time when it becomes harder to breathe. At which point a replacement is needed.

      Also, virus particles tend to piggy-back on other particles and reach the size where they will be caught by the N95.

      This is what I read early in Covid and stick with it.

      Majority of mask fails are simply poorly fitted masks and taking them off when Covid still lingers about.

  4. Safety First

    I humbly suggest that Naked Capitalism, at some future date, does undertake the effort to comb its archives so as to put together a proper book-length indictment of the CDC’s performance during the COVID era. Possibly self-publishing such through Amazon’s or some other platform, or disseminating through any friendly seeming websites (Jacobin, maybe?).

    First, I think this is a useful message to hammer home beyond the confines of this blog, even if it might never gain truly “mass market” status.

    Second, I think it would be highly useful to have all the materials – links, charts, musings, whatever – in one spot rather than spread across a multitude of posts.

    Third, I suspect that no-one, or almost no-one, else will bother to do any such thing, at least not for a great while.

    Something to think about, perhaps…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for the suggestion. We did do a mini-book based on a long series totally eviscerating a Fed/OCC scheme to compensate borrowers for servicing abuses in 2009 and 2010. We got IIRC an initial 5 whistleblowers which eventually became 9. Lots of very detailed and damning accounts and even documents incriminating the firms that were running the programs. Of course, we never got MSM acknowledgement, but at the time Matt Stoller said the series was enormously effective, no one and I mean no one, attempted to defend the program after that. There was no other side.

      This would be harder because this would not be the collection of a self contained series (with typo cleanup, which is considerable, and pretty formatting of documents) but editing material across many posts into a story. But I will discuss with Lambert. If Russia wins the war by the end of June (of course their achievement of objectives, which never included the conquest and occupation of all of Ukraine, will be defined as a loss by the West), the dropoff in news might free up enough time.

    2. Joe Well

      I know this is no substitute, but in the meantime, you can use these two search operators to find posts with CDC in the title. intitle:cdc

      Here are DuckDuckGo’s results. I tried limiting by time to the last two years but it filtered out many results from within that time, and almost all the results are since 2020, anyway.

      Just glancing through the results, it’s quite an indictment.

  5. cocomaan

    I am entirely serious in the recommendation that the CDC, which now has about 32,000 employees, be shut down and a new body or bodies created in its place. It is imperative that any new Federal public health agencies have no more than 20% of their staffers come from the CDC.

    I’m wondering if there’s any precedent in dissolving an agency like this. There’s a number of agencies that seem to think they deserve to be immortal, but are functionally a threat to the country.

    For anyone looking for a primer on the creation of the CDC, you might check out this podcast episode/transcript. It explains the CDC’s military and corporate origins, which explains why it’s all about power preservation today:

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I recognize this may be administratively impossible unless you got a bull in the china shop like Trump back or a less erratic radical reformer in. And if it were Trump, any success would be in tearing down rather than rebuilding, unless he managed to have a public health empire builder who was actually competent who recognized the opportunity.

      And even then, Trump falls out of love with people at the drop of a hat and shit cans them, although he has hung on to the occasional very capable person (such as Robert Lightheizer, whose secret to longevity may have been never seeking the limelight).

      So yes, this is a statement of what needs to happen and probably won’t.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      A powerful Intelligence-Counter Intelligence bureau made up of all the dissident scientists and doctors who said that covid is a real problem and it spreads by aerosols and etc would be needed to do the most extreme vetting possible on every single one of those 32,000 employees from the CDC to make sure that they are blackballed for life from any health related or health adjacent job ever again.

      Because if they are permitted to infiltrate and penetrate any successor agency or bureau which might be created, they will simply continue their secret undercover mission to LIHOP/ HIHOP/ MIHOP the ongoing spread and entrenchment of covid and the spread of every new little epidemic which emerges.

      Actually what would be needed are Covid Nuremberg trials with thousands of convictions and thousands of death sentences carried out against sinister disease spreaders like Fauci and all the little Fauclings and cynical mass-murdering goons like Andy ” Rat Face” Cuomo and the Sweden Old-People-Killers and so forth.

      As long as people like that are permitted to remain alive, they will spread disease over and over and over again, as part of their role in advancing the Jackpot Agenda.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I should clarify . . . . the employees who were one way or another way part of Project Jackpot within the CDC. If there were/are any legitimate scientists, technicians, etc. within CDC ( and one suspects there must be some) they should be found and kept separate for separate re-employment into any non-polluted counter-epidemic agency/bureau which may be newly created.

        Perhaps dissident doctors, scientists, etc. on the outside should begin doing quiet intelligence to find out who the non-Jackpotty keeping-their-head-down-to-survive personnell within the CDC are . . . without the Jackpot Cadres of CDC finding out that such intelligence is being quietly gathered.

  6. Amateur Socialist

    I have hesitated to share my appreciation for Michael Lewis The Premonition here. I know his writing on the GFC was fairly lightweight and breezy among other problems.

    But the book does clearly articulate the overriding political concerns that have always governed public health policy. He shows how the agency gradually got more and more politicized starting with the AIDS crisis. His weakness is probably the way he centers personalities in the narrative, it helps make the book readable and engaging but necessarily skimpy on at least some of the details.

    If you want to understand how the CDC got the way it is it’s worth the time. And the book doesn’t offer a lot of hope that things are likely to get better. Which was pretty depressing for me as I finished it last year just before the Delta wave took off.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The CDC stopped collecting this data in 1998? That’s years before Trump. That turns my suspicion about the CDC’s secret role in spreading disease on purpose into a very firm belief. And the CDC is not alone here.

      It will continue unless and until every single responsible and involved person is found and personally and physically killed.

  7. The Rev Kev

    Frankly after all the damage that your CDC has done, how satisfying it would be to burn down the Atlanta HQ and fire every manager employed by the CDC but I do not think that it would help. You would hope that a replacement CDC would be staffed by people who prioritize science over politics like IM Doc but from what I have read, the pipeline for new doctors is not training up doctors to the standards from a generation or two ago. So the new staff will end up being just like the old one. And any new organization would be gamed by both DC politicians and Big Pharma to be pliant to their wishes and desires. After a few years you would have the same problem all over again. So here we are talking about a structural problem which will require a structural solution but I see no push for this to happen, even after all the flaws revealed by the present Pandemic.

    1. RookieEMT

      The Atlanta HQ is on fire… the fire department responds.

      They arrive on scene and begin attacking the fire with their hoses. Two fire-fighters are ready with bunker gear, masks, and their oxygen supply and go to the chief. They want to go inside.

      The chief responds that’s alright, they already are getting a good rate of water on the fire.

      Confusion spreads among the two firefighters. People are trapped inside. They are totally ready to go. Smoke slowly wafts out of the opposite side of the building.

      They ask to start cutting holes in the roof to ventilate out the smoke but the chief said it was not necessary. They point to the turbo-powered fans on the side of their trucks to get the smoke out but the chief shook his head.

      “What are you talking about, we weren’t trained in this or anything. Also I doubt anyone of the thousands of people standing in the parking lot would know either.”

      They beg the chief to go inside and the chief finally relents. He’ll let them go but first he asks why the air tank and respirators?

      The two firefighters look at each other in confusion again. The chief shakes his head, saying they are wasting resources. They are instructed to crawl on the floor and wear a wet towel around their mouths and they’ll be fine. Same if they are in the sitting position.

    2. TBellT

      You would hope that a replacement CDC

      There simply wouldn’t be a replacement. Today’s ruling class doesn’t even realize this data is necessary for managing the system. They just think “Why let people know how bad the situation is if it means I lose the next election?”

      from what I have read, the pipeline for new doctors is not training up doctors to the standards from a generation or two ago.

      I don’t believe this. My experience with doctors has always been better with ones similar to me in age. For instance I have not met a Dr over 50 who knows what PrEP is.

  8. Susan the other

    It is truly hard to imagine “even dumber people in charge” of the CDC. Covid is smarter than the CDC. We can rely on our own patience, caution and common sense. And being lucky enough to have a good source of information. That’s about it. I don’t really care what happens to the CDC. I care immensely what happens to good reporting. NC is more important to my health than even my doctor.

  9. Ed Miller

    One teeny criticism – you really don’t believe the Ukraine is running this propaganda operation. It’s our famously “always right” military types from the CIA, working with the media like they are one team.

    I am confident that most here know the real problem, which is that the government is so infected by the revolving door by which agencies are infected at the top with enemy agents, if you will, whose real objective is to undermine the effectiveness of any government efforts to provide meaningful services to the public.

    Narrative control rules at the top. The mainstream media are just lapdogs for the elites who drive this. Matt Taibbi nailed the problem in his interview with Russell Brand. US media types just like to hang out with the elites because they are all part of the same crowd. The public in general are just worker/servants. Who cares!

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Well, what if some magical process were found to get the public in general and the worker/servants to care? About themselves and eachother? Could such a magical process then lead them to study up on how the Kosovoa Albanians created a whole parallel society under Milosevichian Occupation under the spiritual leadership of people like Ibrahim Rugova? ( If my memory of history is correct)?

      If two hundred million Americans came to understand themselves as the spiritual equivalent of two hundred million Kosovoa Albanians living under the Milosevichian Occupation of the Upper Class and the Overclass and its servant government?

  10. antidlc

    I must have missed this…

    Walensky works from home in Boston.

    Opinion piece from Jan, 21, 2022:
    Pozniak: Is CDC Director Walensky failing as a pandemic leader?

    Another misstep is her lack of a consistent onsite presence at CDC headquarters. Walensky has been spending too much time working remotely from her Massachusetts home. Working remotely might be OK for an insurance or high tech CEO, but not for the CDC director during a historic pandemic. With her employees suffering from low morale and burnout and taking many hits because of confusing COVID and variant guidelines and information, the onsite presence of Walensky is needed more than ever. If hospital CEOs are working onsite during chaos in the hospital delivery system, and Gov. Baker and the mayor of Boston are at their office desks leading a COVID response, the CDC director should do the same.

  11. Dave in Austin

    Well said. Yves’ outrage is understandable when she says:

    “But like just about everything related to Covid, the CDC and Biden approach has exposed the worst weaknesses of the professional-managerial class, a strong tendency to think that story-telling is the same as analysis and problem-solving, a reluctance to change course (as in the appearance of consistency is more important than being effective), and a belief that the public is a bunch of dumb sheep who are only at most entitled to be told what to do and deserve to be beaten when they don’t comply.”

    This storytelling is not limited to Covid. See inflation, the energy-environment crisis and the Ukraine. The rot starts at the top; the professional staffs are usually first-rate; CDC on Covid; DOE on energy; Dept of State and DOD on the Ukraine. But the top of the heap is filled with the pretty, the smooth and well connected. I’ll bet Yves, with her business history, could have a lot to say on that subject. We are becoming Great Britain from 1890-1980 without a Churchill.

    In ossified regimes mistakes are never quickly accepted and rectified. It is all PR. George Washington learned from Brandywine; Lincoln learned from Bull Run. When the Germans attacked Russia in 1941 it wasn’t Stalin that moved half of Soviet industry from the Ukraine to the Urals in 90 days; it was random engineers, managers and railroad people who had been raised up by the revolution.

    Type into Google “General Electric founded by?” and read the personal and professional biographies. Then type into Google “General Electric destroyed by?” and read the biographies of Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt. The PCM is everywhere today.

    Maybe there is a corollary to Schumpeter’s capitalistic “Creative Destruction” which might be called the PCM’s “uncreative destruction”.

  12. VietnamVet

    The ideology that got rid of the New Deal and shattered western democratic nation states has a very simple theological base. The only thing that matters is money. The public is of no consequence. The start of World War III dropped the deaths of a million Americans and the grief of nine million families down the rabbit hole.

    The revolving door makes money for Insiders. It is good for them. The problem is that the laws, regulations and messaging that protect the public health have been trashed.

    The Ukraine Russia War, Climate Change, and Coronavirus Pandemic are all exploding because these catastrophes are extremely profitable to people inside the bubble who can’t image that they will ever be adversely affected by their avarice.

    Only a Reformation that throws out this corrupt amoral theology can save the West from collapse.

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