As America passes a grim mortality milestone of 100,000 and counting for the COVID-19 pandemic, this immense and mounting death toll highlights the distressing extent of our national incapacity. Three aspects of our current situation stand out to me –
- Our inability to protect workers – no matter how essential. From emergency room nurses to meat packers, the workers deemed essential are bearing a disproportionate weight of losses. Meanwhile, federal OSHA refuses to issue enforceable directives, leaving only suggestive guidelines that are often ignored.
- The lack of a national public health system. The vital tasks of developing testing systems and tracing capability have been left to the states. Some states have shirked these responsibilities in a counterproductive effort to “get the economy moving again.”
- The demise of the CDC as the “gold standard” of global health. The fiasco of sending out contaminated test kits crippled our national response at a critical juncture as the pandemic revved up. This failure was compounded by CDC’s unfathomable jumbling of tests for virus and antibody results. Further, CDC was prevented from publishing strict health guidelines at a time when the nation needed them most. The upshot is that the agency that was once the world’s public leader is now a hyper-politicized shadow of itself.
Rather than making America great again, the United States is now the subject of global consternation and, yes, even pity.
We must do better.
PEER serves epidemiologists, microbiologist, pediatricians, and other federal public health and environmental specialists. Utilizing their expertise will be indispensable in moving forward, yet many of these experts face tremendous political and professional obstacles in doing their jobs. They, and we, thank you for your support.
COVID Risk from Sewage Spills
Sewage spills pose both an environmental and a public health threat. That is because the COVID-19 virus persists in human waste and often comes into direct contact with the public.
Unfortunately, at the same time, those wastewater violations are on the rise, enforcement is decreasing. PEER just published a detailed analysis of serious and increasing breakdowns in the sewage treatment system for Orlando, Florida. We hope that its sobering findings trigger some reforms.
Censuring Science at EPA
PEER has submitted comments on EPA’s latest proposal to forbid the use of any scientific studies for which the underlying data cannot be made publicly available – even if it is the best available science and peer-reviewed. Many important studies, especially epidemiological studies, are based on personal health data that is protected by privacy laws. Devaluing the mountain of health-based research to serve a slogan of “scientific transparency” is just plain…well, dumb.
Inspectors General Under Siege
No one would call this the Golden Age of oversight over the executive branch. We are tracking the unprecedented damage that President Trump has visited on the remaining independence of the cadre of federal Inspectors General.
PEER is also leading the charge to force EPA to require its political appointees to submit to IG interviews and thus end Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s questionable upstairs/downstairs accountability dichotomy.
One indelible lesson from the Trump tenure is that new checks will be needed to restore a semblance of balance to our federal system of checks and balance.