Redfield defended the CDC’s surveillance for the coronavirus and denied that the agency missed the spread of the virus across the country.
“We were never blind when it came to surveillance for coronavirus 19,” Redfield said.
“The reality is the surveillance systems that CDC had developed over the years for respiratory viral diseases, particularly the influenza-like illness, really did give us eyes on this disease as it began to emerge,” Redfield said. “Independent of testing, we had pretty good eyes on whether there was any new respiratory influenza-like illness occurring in our country.”
“CDC’s findings published today in the MMWR suggest that the virus that causes Covid-19 was imported into the United States from China in late January, early February, and this importation caused limited community spread in the northwestern United States,” Redfield said on Friday.
“The data also suggest that cases of Covid-19 were not yet present in the eastern or midwestern states during the same time frame. However the findings do show that in late February, early March, there were several importations of the virus from Europe into California, northeastern United States and possibly elsewhere. Subsequent to that, nationwide spread of the virus occurred,” Redfield said.
“What this data clearly shows is, by four independent lines of evidence, that the early introduction of this virus in the northwest and northern California was sometime between the second week of January and the second week of February,” he said. “I think it’s really important that it puts data into the discussion, as opposed to prior to this we had the discussion without a lot of data.”
In early February, the CDC released a flawed test that took it weeks to correct. That left state and local public health labs across the country effectively sidelined. Many labs were waiting for the revised CDC tests, while commercial and clinical labs were barred from conducting their own tests unless they went through a complex process of applying for their own emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration.
As a result, several expert reports have said the federal government squandered a critical month during which aggressive and widespread testing might have reduced the speed and scale of the pandemic.