A government shutdown could mean we won’t know, as quickly, how deadly this year’s flu outbreak is
Right now, America is in the grips of one of the deadliest seasonal flu epidemics in recent memory. And the shutdown will slow operations on its seasonal influenza program.
As Buzzfeed reports, hours before the government shutdown Friday night, the agency released a contingency plan that said flu outbreak monitoring would continue during a shutdown, but that flu reports may be published on a slower schedule.
During the 2013 shutdown, state labs continued to operate, doing the work of surveilling disease to detect outbreaks, but they weren’t able to call on CDC epidemiologists for help coordinating investigations — and any samples sent to the agency piled up. Back then, the CDC also wasn’t able to update national disease trends or disease clusters in real time.
Tom Frieden, who was director of the agency for eight years, from 2009 to 2017, said the 2013 shutdown “was the only time I felt I couldn’t do my job of protecting Americans.”
He added: “It was the really the most anxiety-provoking time because it was like being blindfolded and having one hand tied behind your back.”
The 2013 government shutdown was like a scene from a science fiction movie – empty labs and offices at CDC. Shutdowns are not safe.
— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrFrieden) January 18, 2018
Even though the government says “activities related to the safety of human life” are supposed to continue in the event of a shutdown, Frieden said the way shutdowns work is “very irrational.”
“Because whether people are allowed to keep working or not doesn’t actually depend on how important their jobs are,” he said. “It depends on where the sources of funding come from and whether certain legal definitions are met.”