Friday, October 4, 2013

Only one CDC scientist is tracking food-borne illnesses thanks to shutdown

Posted By on Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 9:58 AM

CDC Director Tom Frieden
If you think the government shutdown isn't affecting you - even "mentally" - you might want to take a closer look at how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is operating now that approximately two-thirds of its 13,000 employees have been told to stay home. Around 6,000 of the agency's workers are in metro Atlanta.

WABE, which is partnering with CL throughout the month to report on metro Atlanta's nonprofit community, spoke with CDC Director Tom Frieden yesterday. He says the government agency has been hamstrung from doing its job, which has left the country vulnerable to "blind spots." Says Frieden to WABE's Michelle Eloy:

"If an experiment was set up in the lab, a project was started, it may be that it could be stopped and resumed, but it may also be that there's real damage to that," Frieden says.

Frieden says normally, the CDC has eight scientists tracking and examining food-borne illnesses. Post-shutdown, there's only one. Some research and reference labs have gone from a staff of 80 to 2, and staff at the 20 quarantine stations dotted along the country's borders and ports has been reduced by 85 percent. The center's hospital-acquired infections phone line - which Frieden says receives about 100 calls a day - has also been shuttered.

Some programs that are funded by cash not cut off during the shutdown remain up and running. (Those include departments focused on "imminent threats," such as keeping the plague and smallpox at bay, thank God.) But the agency's program to track and map the upcoming flu season has been drastically scaled back.

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