Will an outside expert tell all of the inside experts the difference between correlative and causative data? And just how “outside” is this outsider, anyway? Rochelle Walensky sent out a memo yesterday preparing staffers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for efforts to “modernize” the agency, about two years after it became obvious that the CDC couldn’t perform its functions in a crisis.

First up is an outside look at the CDC, according to the Washington Post. By “outsider,” they mean, um …

After briefing the agency’s leadership team, Walensky sent staff the email, saying the one-month effort, set to begin April 11, would be led by Jim Macrae, associate administrator for primary health care at the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA. HRSA and CDC are part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

She also tapped three senior officials to gather feedback and solicit suggestions for “strategic change.” They are Deb Houry, acting principal deputy director; Robin Bailey, chief operating officer; and Sherri Berger, chief of staff and a longtime agency veteran who oversaw the agency’s budget for many years and is close to Walensky.

As outsiders go, this team looks pretty insider-ish. When a company wants an extensive analysis of a failing unit, they rarely just choose another related unit to do the work, and for good reason. Being part of the same overall organization leaves risks for personal and professional agendas and relationships to color the outcome of any such analysis, let alone any plan to remediate the deficiencies within the failing unit.

And if the main problem is bureaucracy, it seems unlikely that analysts who come from similar bureaucracies would even recognize the issue.

What’s clearly getting recognized within the CDC is that they’ve lost most if not all of their credibility, and that a few more rounds of Anthony Fauci on TV isn’t helping to recover it. The Washington Post recognizes it too, and that it’s not something that can just be sloughed off onto Donald Trump:

Since the pandemic began more than two years ago, the once-storied agency has been under fire for its pandemic response, from initial delays developing a coronavirus test, to the severe eligibility limits to get the test, to missteps often attributed to Trump administration meddling. But even under the Biden administration, the agency’s guidance on masking, isolation and quarantine, and booster doses has been repeatedly faulted for being confusing. A consistent criticism has been the agency’s failure to be agile, especially with analysis and release of real-time data.

Walensky seemed to acknowledge those criticisms in brief public remarks about the reasons for the reorganization.

“Never in its 75-year history has CDC had to make decisions so quickly, based on often limited, real-time, and evolving science,” she said in the statement. “ … As we’ve challenged our state and local partners, we know that now is the time for CDC to integrate the lessons learned into a strategy for the future.”

Never in its 75-year history did CDC officials try manipulating data and act as subserviently to political interests on policy outcomes, either. They’re still recommending masking on planes, for instance, without any real data showing a necessity for it and with COVID-19 cases and correlative hospital admissions hitting lows again. They’re still pushing masks in schools even though the CDC’s own data shows children to be at lower risk without vaccination than vaccinated adults and all sorts of data demonstrating that schools aren’t vectors for community transmission.

And most egregiously — although that’s a hot competition — the CDC has now gone two years without requiring COVID-19 hospitalization and death data to be causative rather than merely correlative. That has generated large numbers that hardly reflect the reality of COVID-19, a point that the CDC itself has conceded repeatedly but has done nothing to correct.

Perhaps in the future, we can hope that the CDC starts following actual science rather than teachers’ unions and the like. As long as Xavier Becerra’s bureaucrats are in charge of the tiger team, however, don’t expect anything more than rearranging of deck chairs on the oft-sinking Titanic that is the CDC’s credibility.

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