The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The CDC’s Apology Won’t Raise the Dead

Aug 29, 2022

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control, recently admitted the CDC made “dramatic, pretty public mistakes” in its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Walensky based her remarks on a report she received as a result of an investigation she ordered in April. She apologized for the CDC’s failure to focus on public health needs, slow response to outbreaks of disease, and inability to communicate to the public in ways they could understand and use.

Following Walensky’s confession, other public health commentators have described how in the early months of the pandemic, the CDC bowed to pressure from the Trump administration to play down the disease, but also that the CDC was more directly at fault when it gave out Covid tests that proved to be inaccurate. Some have pointed out that the CDC’s guidance has been confusing, even to public health experts. They say the CDC sometimes took too long to release data for timely decisions to be made, such as information on breakthrough infections among the vaccinated that might have led them to recommend booster shots sooner.

Some have pointed out similar failures in the more recent handling of the monkeypox epidemic. They’ve commented on the CDC’s tendency to dance around the truth out of worry about the public’s reaction to it, like in the initial days of Covid when the CDC discouraged the use of masks, not because masks wouldn’t work but because they worried that if everyone bought masks, they wouldn’t have enough for health care workers. Public health officials at first avoided revealing that monkeypox was mainly infecting homosexual men, to prevent stigmatizing them.

Some public officials point to problems with both the early Covid testing and recent monkeypox testing to suggest the CDC’s testing is too centralized. When the CDC’s first Covid tests failed, the problem was made worse by the Food and Drug Administration’s refusal to allow laboratories to develop their own tests. With monkeypox, the CDC had enough tests in the early weeks of the outbreak but couldn’t get them out to local doctors quickly enough to test their patients.

Yet they also note that reporting on data on testing and cases is too decentralized and fragmented across state and local health departments, hospitals, clinics, and labs with no organization between them. It’s why the public gets more information about new Covid variants and the need for new boosters from other countries like Israel and Britain that have national health care systems!

Yeah, no kidding Sherlock! It’s nice to have the “apology” from the CDC and the information from public officials on all the failings, but what does anyone propose to do about them? Walensky promises to “reorganize” the CDC. That probably wouldn’t hurt, but can they do it? And is that all that’s needed? Not likely.

The timing of Walensky’s “mea culpa” raises the question of whether it’s anything more than simply an election ploy, pointing out the failures during the Trump administration and admitting mistakes and promising to improve now that Biden is in charge.

At the same time Walensky offers her apologies, the CDC continues to issue confusing nonsense on dealing with Covid-19, telling people they don’t have to wear masks or even stay six feet apart! It seems to be yielding to public pressure and acting as if Covid-19 is no longer a pandemic, just something the public has to live with. Yet with over three hundred deaths due to Covid every day, that amounts to approximately four yearly flu epidemics. And it’s the working class that is most affected by the pandemic.

Putting aside such cynicism, the problems with the CDC are only one symptom of the root causes of public health crises in the U.S., though the CDC rightly deserves criticisms for its failures. One look at the CDC’s annual budget shows the lack of attention governments in this country pay to public health. The CDC’s annual budget is 12 billion dollars. The annual budget for U.S. military spending in 2022 is 778 billion dollars. Military spending has increased every year by several times the CDC’s entire budget!

Even just looking at how the public’s health is addressed in this country, spending on medical care has gone up 50% in the last decade, while local health department budgets went down by 24% and the CDC’s budget stayed the same! That’s because the medical system in the U.S. is organized around the goal of profit. Profits for private, for-profit health care systems and the insurance industry. Profits delivered even through the “non-profit” sector to pharmaceutical and medical supply companies, and banks that feed off of health care.

What will reorganizing the CDC do, when so many working class and poor people have no access to a local community health care provider whom they can trust, due to all the cuts made over recent decades. Or when vaccines and tests, when they’re available, are provided through for-profit drug stores, which for many may be far away for those with little access to transportation.

While discussing the failures of the CDC, public health officials conveniently leave out any discussion of the role of conditions imposed on the working class that contribute to the spread of infectious diseases like Covid—by the bosses and their capitalist system. Workers were forced to go to work in crowded and poorly ventilated workplaces, not given proper protective equipment, or allowed take the necessary time off to quarantine, nor to deal with side effects of vaccination. All while being given faint praise for being “essential”.

In the end, it’s not the CDC and not the government that’s to blame for the public health crises in this country and across the world. It’s the wealthy capitalist ruling class and their system that are the root cause, and stopping new pandemics requires a reorganization—not just of the CDC, but of the whole society.