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Experts worry CDC is sidelined in coronavirus response

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Washington, as Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listens. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

NEW YORK – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has repeatedly found its suggestions for fighting the coronavirus outbreak taking a backseat to other concerns within the Trump administration. That leaves public health experts outside government fearing the agency’s decades of experience in beating back disease threats are going to waste.

“You have the greatest fighting force against infectious diseases in world history. Why would you not use them?” said Dr. Howard Markel, a public health historian at the University of Michigan.

The complaints have sounded for months. But they have become louder following repeated revelations that transmission-prevention guidance crafted by CDC scientists was never adopted by the White House.

The latest instance surfaced Thursday, when The Associated Press reported that President Donald Trump's administration shelved a CDC document containing step-by-step advice to local authorities on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public places during the current pandemic.

The administration has disputed the notion that the CDC had been sidelined, saying the agency is integral to the administration’s plans to expand contact tracing nationwide.

But it's clear that the CDC is playing a much quieter role than it has during previous outbreaks.

The nation's COVID-19 response has seen a strange turn for the CDC, which opened in 1946 in Atlanta as The Communicable Disease Center to prevent the spread of malaria with a $10 million budget and a few hundred employees. Today, the agency has a core budget of more than $7 billion — a sum that has been shrinking in recent years — and employs nearly 11,000 people.

The CDC develops vaccines and diagnostic tests. Its experts advise doctors how best to treat people, and teach state, local and international officials how to fight and prevent disease. Among the CDC's elite workforce are hundreds of the world’s foremost disease investigators — microbiologists, pathologists and other scientists dispatched to investigate new and mysterious illnesses.