(Photo by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

By Fatiha Belfakir,
Special to the AFRO,
fbelfakir@afro.com

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently revealed new changes of its operations and the COVID-19 quarantine protocol. This sparked a debate among both the American public and health professionals, exposing a dire need to rebuild a fundamental trust between the people and public health agencies. 

The CDC played a vital role in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Its response was crucial in protecting Americans’ health and clearing misconceptions associated with the coronavirus crisis. Jason McDonald, the press secretary for CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky M.D., M.P.H., told the AFRO-American Newspaper that throughout her tenure as director, and over the last few months in particular, Walensky has been evaluating CDC operations. 

“For 75 years, the CDC and other health agencies have been preparing for COVID, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” said Walensky.  “As a long-time admirer of this agency and a champion for public health, I want us all to do better and it starts with  the CDC leading the way.  My goal is to create a new, public health action-oriented culture at the CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication, and timeliness.  I look forward to working with the incredible team at CDC and our partners to understand the agency’s fullest potential to benefit the health and well-being of all Americans.”

Nevertheless, the federal agency shifted its COVID protocol stating that social distancing or quarantine is no longer required, and kids no longer need to “test to stay” in school. The agency said that shifting its protocol a COVID-19 now poses less risk of medically “significant infection.”

Dr. Gulam Muhammed Al Kibria, a senior research associate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told the AFRO that the CDC changed the recommendations based on recent updates and data. Tools such as vaccines, boosters, and drugs are now available to fight the pandemic. 

“The pandemic is not over, but a lower number of hospitalizations and deaths occurring in recent months than the beginning suggests we need an updated guideline,” said Al Kibria.

“The CDC makes changes based on recent data and recommendations from expert panels based on currently available preventive and treatment tools. It has been almost three years since the beginning of pandemic when we did not have all the data or the tools to keep the people safe.”

Unsure of what the virus and its variants will do next, some once again citizens found themselves confused and frustrated.

Celestine Chase, 43, stated that the country is not fully out of the woods yet and that the pandemic is still lingering with the dynamic of the virus which is still unpredictable.

“I am not comfortable with the CDC’s new COVID guidelines. I don’t think it’s safe,” said Chase. “New viruses are still coming, and we don’t know how they will react. I feel like it’s still risky for us and for our children.”

Brian Little, 50, acknowledged that plenty has changed since the pandemic started more than two years ago and that the number of corona cases is down. Yet, he found the communication of the CDC new pandemic protocol confusing. 

“CDC recent COVID-19 guidelines are confusing–I am really confused,” said Little. 

Most vulnerable population groups may find it hard to follow all the new recommendations; seniors, people with disabilities and underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for complications related to COVID-19.  Even higher mortality rates as a result, especially when they would compare these with the recommendations CDC put forward in the beginning of the pandemic. 

“CDC and other public health organizations have to work hard to reach this population group and regain trust. In addition, it is better to be transparent in sharing the reasons for changing,” said Al Kibria. “CDC programs have to be integrated to raise awareness on prevention and control of COVID-19 and to learn lessons to prevent and be prepared for any next pandemic.”

As the pandemic continues to pressure the American health system and stretch the American public beyond their capacity, developing and maintaining public trust is essential to overcome this crisis.

“Rebuilding trust is challenging, however, increasing transparency, collaboration with government and news media, always following a protocol but “expecting the unexpected”, and more efforts to deliver easy messages to vulnerable populations can reduce mistrust in future,” said Al Kibria.

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