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The CDC waited 'it's entire existence for this moment.' What went wrong? (nytimes.com)
61 points by rmason 36 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 34 comments

I can’t help but think of the CDC (hear me out) as the Night’s Watch in Game of Thrones. 1) Setup to protect against things that haven’t happened in most people’s lifetimes. 2) Reduced funding/personnel because nobody really believes it can happen (due to #1). 3) When something finally happens, ignored because it conflicts with the desired political narrative.

As the most watched TV show in history, it wouldn’t be difficult to draw an easy parallel between to two in order to illustrate systemic failure to the public.

Similarly, I think of it as your point 1 plus no practice.

It’s nearly impossible to prepare for something and get it right when it’s never actually happened. Rockets for example get massive amounts of study and simulations and then still get things wrong.

Yes, sometimes you get lucky, but this is also dealing with human behavior and biology. Less predictable than say, computers.

The human behavior factor has changed dramatically with the introduction of social media. People react very differently to information when it’s a constant unfiltered stream, when in the past it was more of a daily update of (somewhat) vetted information. Social science is still grappling with how social media has affected human behavior.

this is a good point, but a lot of what the cdc is/has prepared for in these kind of situations is related to human psychology, and trying to factor that in to their plans.

They also lost a lot of credibility by making ridiculous announcements and fueling media fear mongering. Your dog can give you corona. No evidence of immunity. You can get it from touching things. You can’t get it from touching things. The six foot rule with no real basis. Masks don’t help. Masks do help. Now masks are symbolic. Etc.

All of those things were based on evidence of the time, and then they updated their stance as they got new evidence. How is that ridiculous or fear mongering? Blame the media for blowing things out of proportion if you want (only using the high values for model estimates which have been accurate for months for example) but don't blame scientists who are literally saying they're working with the best evidence they have at the time.

> No evidence of immunity.

Was actually the WHO and they said "There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection"

Which is an entirely accurate statement at the time. The intent was to make sure people who had tested positive and then negative post recovery did not decide they had a party pass when we simply don't know how long their immunity lasts.

> You can get it from touching things.

It lives on surfaces, including some for a long time. Wash your hand.

> You can’t get it from touching things.

"This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about how this virus spreads"

> The six foot rule with no real basis.

Saliva and mucus typically travel 3-5 feet.

> Masks don’t help.

We thought sick people are the only ones that need to wear masks.

> Masks do help

We learned a lot of people are asymptomatic spreaders.

There are many things that have gone wrong with the flow of communication during this crisis, but if you read what the CDC actually said instead of what the headline news source was, they've done a good job of

The problem was not that they changed recommendations based on the knowledge available at the time, it's that those recommendations were not given with a qualification and confidence level appropriate to the strength of the data.

There was too much desire to appear strong and knowledgeable, resulting in too many occasions where forceful, even morally-based recommendations needed to be not just modified, but _reversed_ based on updated data (see the Surgeon General's tweet from Feb 29 on the uselessness and social immorality of mask use -- hasn't aged well).

To be fair, this was not all the CDC -- the media amplification / simplification played a huge role here also -- but the fact remains that the CDC and other US health authorities promulgated recommendations that were flat out wrong and in some cases actively harmful by overindexing on poor data.

You're getting downvoted for strange reasons. The surgeon general literally said this:

"Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus"

> Surgeon General's tweet from Feb 29 on the uselessness and social immorality of mask use -- hasn't aged well

The irony is the Surgeon General's tweet quoted the CDC who had a much more muted message, "CDC does not currently recommend the use of facemasks to help prevent novel #coronavirus. Take everyday preventive actions, like staying home when you are sick and washing hands with soap and water, to help slow the spread of respiratory illness."

> All of those things were based on evidence of the time, and then they updated their stance as they got new evidence.

If the evidence is weak they shouldn't make a pronouncement or say "we don't know". The public recognizes these people as experts and when the stance changes so quickly it gives the impression they don't know what they are doing.

How is the public supposed to differentiate between whether the current CDC message is a solid fact or something based on weak evidence that might change tomorrow? Sometimes its better to just say nothing.

Maybe you should go read some CDC statements because they definitely indicate their level of confidence when they communicate.

> We do not recommend at this time... > There is no evidence to support...

There is plenty of blame to go around which is valid, so let’s actually place the correct blame where it is due. For what this thread is complaining about, the blame falls on the media for their reporting and on the people for not reading the details.

Typo in title (not in the actual article headline)- should be 'its', not 'it's'

It could have been worse if it had not been for Congress:

> The damage would have been far worse had Congress not stood in the way of repeated defunding attempts by the Trump administration. In its first two years, the Trump budgets proposed to slash the CDC’s appropriation by 18.2% and then by 17.1% (accounting for inflation). Today, its FY 2021 budget still seeks a cut of over 10%. Even when Republicans controlled both houses, Congress roundly rejected these aggressive Executive-led cuts, to maintain the agency’s funding near the previous year’s level.


Even worse was his defunding of PREDICT (started in 2009 and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and it worked with teams in 31 countries, including China. It was just one part of an emerging global network for infectious-disease surveillance.)

This cost a trivial $20M per year and funded the woman listed below among others. Of note, in her team's research they have found dozens of bat-borne coronaviruses in the same family as SARS. This did not sneak up on us; we already have MERS, SARS and Ebola. We should have been (and continuing) spending billions as a species on this but everyone has their head in the sand.


That's a very misleading take. First of all PREDICT was shut down in October, so if it was going to help, then it certainly had a chance.

But it was shut down because it failed, not to save money “But things got complicated in the last two years, and by January, Predict was essentially collapsed into hibernation.”

Maybe I'm misreading the quote, but it sounds like there was some sort of problem with the program, and they just gave up and shut it down.

What was the motivation for the cuts? Was it merely difficult to justify spending on a 100-year event that might never come? Or was there a conflict of interest?

Tax cuts at any cost. Since they can't make small cuts to the large programs (military, SS, Medicare) they make thousands of large cuts to the not so well known programs, CDC, forestry, NEA. Then they go back to their constituents about how many millions and billions in programs they've cut.

>Tax cuts at any cost.

The revenue brought in from taxes increased after the tax cuts.


Are you implying a direct causative link?

>Are you implying a direct causative link


The person I was responding to was making the claim that budget cuts were made to make tax cuts possible. I was trying to say that the tax cuts did not lower the revenue so budget cuts were not needed to justify the tax cuts.

The per year deficit greatly increased though during that time. we reduced taxes, the economy grew a little more but the deficit really increased. the net is we borrowed from the future to make those tax cut (cause we'll have to back back the extra deficit over time).

> 100-year event that might never come

SARS-1 (2003) and MERS are recent coronaviruses, and Ebola re-occurs every other year.

SARS-1 had a similar effect on Toronto hospitals as the current COVID-19 on NYC, with staff wiped out.

Actually, if anybody knows why Ebola keeps re-occurring every 2-3 years (according to the CDC), I'd be curious to know why.

You'd think a disease that fatal (over 50%) would wipe itself out. Or maybe, horrors, it's really that bad!

In 2014, the US had a cluster of Ebola cases, and was totally unprepared, with one patient and 2 nurses getting infected:


"[nurse] went home in the scrubs she wore while treating Duncan [for Ebola]."

That transmission was via an airline passenger from Liberia.

Cynically? The best way to show the government is useless, and thus to justify cuts, is to make the government be useless.

Case in point: the USPS. It's the Republican "starve the beast" strategy [0] (of course, not limited to the US, just commonly seen here).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starve_the_beast

Not caring for anybody but themselves? Why would it be explained.

Funding in 2019 isn't the problem. CDC had obviously wrong advice on their website against wearing masks since 2009. The modern day elites have been showing their incompetence time and again lately. This is not because they were a few dollars short.

Wrong how? COVID-19 didn't exist until late last year, so how could they have been wrong since 2009? Even if they were wrong, people can be wrong and change based on new information. That's not incompetence, that's learning.

But if not the "elites" (eye roll) then who? The "non-elites" running things now aren't doing a bang up job.

Wrong in the obvious way that it doesn't impede transmission. The recommendation from 2009 was for H1N1 and they stuck to it for corona. If they couldn't figure it out in a decade, they should have been defunded.

If not the elites, then some other elites, obviously. But the current ones have been failing us all over: a generation of scientific stagnation, poor diet and health advice, including absolutely ridiculous stuff about masks (CDC) and human-to-human transmission (WHO), and just grifting, like saddling young people with immense debt for education which seems to have no value beyond the sheepskin effect. Which is a fairly classic elite money extraction scheme but taken to really damaging, society-wide scale.

*its entire existence

(I wonder if HN has ever considered pulling the headlines from the link directly as that could help with avoiding editorialization)

What should count as "the headline" for a link? The contents of the <title> element in the <head>? The contents of the first <h1> in the <body>? I asked this once [1].

Part of dang's response:

> What the rule means by "original title" can be any one of the candidate titles that an article itself provides. That can be the main heading on the page, but often that is misleading or baity, especially with media sites. The HTML doc title, as you point out, is often a good alternative. Often a subtitle is better than the main title. Other good places to look are the URL, photo captions, and the opening paragraph.

After you figure out which of those should be "the headline", then you've got to deal with the possibility that it is too long. Try to shorten it? Try one of the alternative sources dang lists?

It also might not be plain text. The .innerText of the element you choose will usually be what you want, but I'm not sure that always will be right.

What might be reasonable would be to for the HN submission page to extract several candidate titles from the page and ask the submitter to choose one one of them, with an option to enter a headline manually if the submitter doesn't think any of those work as is.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22931845

The title tag for this article seems correct, so that's probably the 1st choice. The <h1> is similar but the title has "- The New York Times" added to it.

I believe the clickbait issue might be valid for less reputable sites, but in this case it works.

I'm sure the good mods have considered it. I think what causes a lot of editorializing even when OP wants to put the original headline is is the character limit on submission titles.


- the CDC leader is not charismatic

- the CDC has 3,000 staff, but no mgmt.

- the CDC dropped the ball on notifying local officials of who was getting off airplanes

- the CDC has no data science coordination comparable to a random high school student

- the CDC was slow to do anything involved with testing, and contaminated whatever it did make

- the CDC appears to have gotten some information in Jan., but failed to execute until March (since the Wuhan corona lab is funded by the US, we should have known in mid-Dec. or sooner.)

- the CDC is hapless.

This was all predictable had the GSA, or any senior leader, audited them. I don't see their failure as funding-related - they're just an aimless bureaucracy.

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