CDC Director Mandy Cohen is set to testify Thursday at an Energy and Commerce oversight hearing. It will be the first time Cohen has testified since she was appointed over the summer.
“The CDC’s public trust has been damaged as a result of its confusing messaging and other failures during the COVID-19 pandemic. This lack of trust could lead to complications as America heads into respiratory illness season,” Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and subcommittee chair Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) said in a statement.
Republican leaders of the panel have criticized the Biden administration over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and interrogated officials over the origins of the virus.
GOP leaders wrote to Cohen on Wednesday, demanding the agency keep lawmakers updated about a recent uptick of respiratory viruses among children in China.
The World Health Organization and Chinese health officials acknowledged that while respiratory disease activity high among young children in certain parts of the country, the illnesses are caused by known pathogens like RSV, influenza and bacterial pneumonia.
McMorris Rodgers and Griffith slammed the CDC for a lack of transparency early in the COVID-19 pandemic and called for bi-weekly briefings about the latest spate of illness in China that some are concerned echo the earliest days of COVID-19.
“It would be an abdication of the CDC’s duty to the American people if it allows China to repeat its misdeeds from the COVID-19 pandemic. The American people should not have to rely on the unaccountable and untrustworthy WHO to communicate information about Chinese public health threats,” the lawmakers wrote.
Cohen will also likely defend the agency’s budget from Republican lawmakers eager to slash spending. A House GOP appropriations bill would cut $1.6 billion from the CDC — one-sixth of the agency’s budget, including programs for HIV research.
Lawmakers will likely also question the CDC’s reorganization efforts, according to a committee majority staff memo.
“Whether these reforms, which have largely been carried out in secret and without input from Congress, the American people, or even external stakeholders, will be successful remains to be seen,” the memo stated.
Experts have said the agency was too slow to recognize the extent of the coronavirus’s spread in the early days of the pandemic and continuously issued confusing and often contradictory guidance about masks and quarantines.
The initial tests to detect the virus were also flawed, and rollout of vaccines was seen as sluggish.
CDC has also struggled with how to communicate to a pandemic-weary and politically divided public, some of which is skeptical of health officials more broadly.