Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Let's Talk About the CDC

Not many people know or remember my professional history, and why should they? People usually only care about who you work for now. Today, though, I want to talk about who I used to work for: the Centers for Disease Control.

That's right. Once upon a time, I worked as a web developer in the Center for Chronic Diseases at CDC in Atlanta. I have friends who still work at CDC, and I either talk with them regularly or keep up with them on Facebook. I have friends who no longer work at CDC but are now at state health departments. I guess you could say that I'm fairly well-connected to people in the world of public health, and I wanted to talk about them for a bit.

People who work in public health care. They are some of the most thoughtful, generous people I have ever known. They genuinely care about their communities, and they usually prioritize the collective good over themselves. It was unusual for me to run into somebody at CDC who had not served in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. They are knowledgeable of the world and familiar with countries and cultures outside of the United States. They love to travel and meet new people. They care deeply about the welfare of people inside and outside of their country. They are curious and committed to keeping an open mind about everyone.

People who work in public health are educated. Almost everyone I worked with had an advanced degree, and senior leaders typically have doctorate degrees -- in statistics, medicine, epidemiology, or education. People often think of others with advanced academic degrees as being removed from reality or practical life, but every single person I know at CDC -- advanced degree or not -- is absolutely relatable. They are not stuffy or pedantic or overly cerebral; they are warm and friendly and concerned about real people. Epidemiologists, for example, track disease at an individual level; they call individual people who have likely been in contact with someone who has an infectious disease. That's not stuffy or pedantic.

People who work in public health are intelligent. They read. They stay up to date on current events. They have fascinating hobbies and interesting conversation. When I think back to those three years I worked at CDC, I can only remember one person who was difficult to talk to, and she was another developer! Everyone else -- every public health employee -- was a taker and a giver in conversation. They talked about themselves, but they also asked questions about me. They had interesting things to say and interesting questions to ask. I, personally, consider that a mark of intelligence.

Finally, people in public health are honest. They're not selling anything or trying to make a buck; they truly care about making the world a better place. They generally don't make a huge salaries, and the ones who do very well for themselves financially don't get there quickly -- it takes a long time and a lot of experience to work their way up the government payscale. They simply want to help people, and they want to do it in a very specific way -- by improving the health of the population. I can't think of many goals better than that.

Why am I writing all of this? Because I've heard a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 lately. And because I'm tired of people acting like the CDC (and the World Health Organization) doesn't know what's really going on or they don't have the world's best interest at heart. If the CDC admonishes us to wash our hands, we should wash our hands! If they advise elderly and immunocompromised people to stay home, they should stay home! Etc., etc. The CDC isn't just a big, faceless government entity; it's composed of thousands of good -- really good -- people who care about America and the world. They are the best of the best at public health surveillance, and we should trust them.

When commenting on COVID-19's mortality rate last week, President Trump said:
Well, I think the 3.4% is really a false number. Now, this is just my hunch, and -- but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this, because a lot of people will have this, and it's very mild. They will get better very rapidly. The don't even see a doctor. [. . .] Personally, I would say the number is way under 1%. (Trump's Gut Collides with Science on Coronavirus Messaging)

Folks, we have experts to do a job we can't do! We should NOT be listening to the President's "hunches!" Just as there are experts to fix a leaky pipe or pull a wisdom tooth or fly a plane, there are experts to monitor public health and make recommendations. Let's trust them!

What's more to the point, I suppose, is that . . . I trust them. I've worked with them; I'm friends with them; and I know them. This is my witness.

Thing I'm thankful for: my molecular cell biology class in college


Anonymous Blake said...

I'm grateful for public health officials and infectious disease doctors. Like vaccines, I believe they have our best interests in mind. What I'm not comfortable with is a nuclear social distancing response in reaction to a serious but still not that deadly virus (aka the vast majority of this infected by coronavirus live). It's unfair to trump out a "flatten the curve at all costs" approach to something that doesn't deserve such a dramatic response. Just because we could "flatten the curve" of 61,000 flu deaths last year with nuclear social distancing doesn't mean we should. That's why people are upset, scared, and confused. We can't agree on the price to pay!

10:18 AM  

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