OPINION: CDC deserves more praise, less criticism for actions during COVID-19 pandemic

Despite facing criticism consistently from the beginning of the pandemic until now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be praised for making decisions based on science, providing valuable information and funding research needed to end the pandemic. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/FLICKR/Raed Mansour

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced May 13 those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks, signaling that the days of frequent sanitization and 6-foot distancing may soon come to an end.

The CDC has faced intense criticism for this and many other actions it has taken throughout the COVID-19 pandemic but has in fact assisted the public the best it could over the past 14 months. The organization has done well to educate people and keep them safe while battling against growing public distrust and concerns about it frequently altering pandemic guidance.

Backlash toward the organization’s most recent announcement has come from various groups, including members of the scientific community who disagree with its decision to allow vaccinated people to be both indoors and outdoors without masks. 

This newest CDC guidance is not based on science, does not protect public health and threatens the lives of patients, nurses and other frontline workers across the country,” National Nurses United Executive Director Bonnie Castillo wrote in a May 15 statement against the guidance. 

Through extensive research, the CDC has found those who are fully vaccinated are protected against severe COVID-19 symptoms and are less likely to transmit the virus, making it safe for those who are vaccinated fully to end their usage of masks outside of large crowds and health care facilities, according to the CDC. 

Criticism of the CDC’s actions during the pandemic is nothing new. Taking a look at the last year, the CDC has received repeated backlash from the public due to its ever-changing guidelines. Libertarian news outlet Reason regularly condemns the CDC’s often altered guidelines, which have become more relaxed with each statement the organization publishes and often contradict its most recent announcements. 

However, this is due to the rapidly changing nature of COVID-19 research, the virus itself as well as the increase in vaccines that have been administered in America since February. About one-third of the U.S. population, or 123.3 million people, have been fully vaccinated in the U.S. as of May 17, according to Our World in Data. This is 107.8 million more than what had been administered as of Feb. 17. 

Research on COVID-19 is being conducted constantly, funded in part by the CDC, causing the organization’s information to alter as new knowledge on the virus is produced. The CDC has been criticized by scientists, nonetheless, for recommending mask mandates be dropped, especially when the majority of Black Americans are still vulnerable to the virus.

“If the United States had the vaccination rates of Black communities (about 27%) I don’t think the CDC would have changed the masking guidelines. We should change guidelines when it is reasonable and safe for the populations made MOST vulnerable, not for those who are the least,” tweeted Dr. Rhea Boyd on May 14, who works in pediatrics and public health at Stanford University. 

The vaccine, however, lessens the spread of COVID-19, meaning those who are fully vaccinated are less likely to contract the virus and pass it on to those who are not vaccinated, according to Pfizer, one of the pharmaceutical companies leading vaccine research and distribution. The new mask guidance is also only for those who are fully vaccinated, and the organization still asks that masks be worn by those who have not yet received it. 

The CDC also didn’t receive much support from the previous executive administration that boosted public opinion of the organization. At the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC was met with criticism by former President Donald Trump and his constituents which was rooted in distrust of science and belief in misinformation. 

Within the month of September alone, USA Today found Trump and members of his administration defied the CDC’s guidelines 27 times, holding maskless rallies of thousands and meeting with committees completely maskless. 

The nonprofit think tank RAND Corporation performed an analysis of a poll it conducted multiple times from May to October 2020 with the same 1,892 participants and found Americans’ trust in the CDC fell almost 10% in the first six months of the pandemic. 

Regardless of the criticism it has faced, the CDC has done what it can to help Americans and the global population during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump’s attempts to silence the CDC and override its scientific authority, although temporarily diminished the public’s trust in the organization, did not stop it from helping people through the pandemic. 

President Joe Biden and his administration are now attempting to rebuild trust in the CDC by promoting COVID-19 vaccinations and supporting the research conducted by the organization. The president has followed the CDC’s guidelines quite religiously and even urged parents to get their children between 12-15 years old vaccinated as soon as the CDC recommended it May 14. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, has also endorsed the CDC throughout the pandemic, even assisting the organization in recent research to see if wearing two masks protected the public from the virus more than one. 

With the change in administration and new executive support for the organization, the CDC has shown to be among the most trusted information outlets in America for pandemic-related information, according to a May 2021 poll by the Harvard School of Public Health. The poll found 25% of the 1,305 Americans who participated somewhat trust the organization and 52% trust it a great deal.

The CDC’s Clara, its automated Facebook Messenger information provider, has been used more than 41 million times as of February by people researching symptoms of the virus on Facebook, according to the CDC. It also advised businesses and schools to require masks indoors, prepared first responders for the influx of patients and spread valuable details about COVID-19 symptoms and preparedness to every country. 

Outside of making critical information easily accessible to people around the world, the CDC has been using much of its financial resources to combat the virus and prevent further pandemics. 

The organization funded epidemiology research, lab experiments for vaccines and testing, preparation for state health departments, vaccine distribution and education for health care professionals, providing $38.4 billion, or 47% of its COVID-19 budget, in total to all of these causes as of Jan. 18, according to the CDC. 

Due to the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic and Trump’s constant pushback toward the organization, the CDC has done the best it could this past year, having funded valuable vaccine and testing research and being viewed as one of the most trustworthy information outlets by the American public. 

The CDC should be complimented for its hard work in public health during the COVID-19 pandemic and releasing guidance in line with the current scientific literature. At a time in which the world was in a panic, the CDC was able to persevere as best it could and continues to provide assistance and information to those in need.