WHO’s On First at the CDC

CDC mouthpiece Dr. Nancy Messonnier dodges questions from the media.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with a budget of more than $6 billion, was created to deal with emergency situations such as the coronavirus contagion. CDC Director Robert Redfield, has been “actively engaged in clinical research and clinical care of chronic human viral infections and infectious diseases” for more than 30 years. Even so, when the CDC held a February 25 telebriefing update on COVID-19, Dr. Redfield was not the host.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), fielded questions from the media. A reporter identified as Craig, from KNX 1070 news radio in Los Angeles, was curious about China.

“Is the Chinese government leveling with you?” Craig wanted to know. “Are they telling you the truth?  Have they given you the straight dope, so to speak, as to what you need to know about the coronavirus?” Given the origin in Wuhan, China, Craig had posed a question of some significance.

“In terms of the Chinese government,” Messonnier responded, “there has been a WHO team on the ground in China as well in Wuhan.  There are data coming out from those efforts.  We have a lot of information from China.” Craig and other reporters would not get any of the information from China, but the response had been revealing.

The CDC’s Nancy Messonnier evidently considers the World Health Organization an official publicity agent for the Chinese government. As Craig and other reporters noted, Dr. Messonnier offered no judgement on the truthfulness of data from the WHO. None of the reporters asked if any of the “information from China” had been gathered by the CDC itself. A reporter identified as Ben from CNN was more concerned with the American government.

“This morning while he was traveling in India, President Trump said that he thinks that the coronavirus is a problem that is going to go away,” Ben from CNN said. “He seems very optimistic about this and we’re trying to figure out exactly why he believes so strongly that to be the case. And so my question for you is what information is your agency specifically giving the president and the White House about the current state of the coronavirus outbreak?”

“One hypothesis,” Dr. Messonnier said, “is that we could be hopeful that this could potentially be seasonal.  Other viral respiratory diseases are seasonal including influenza and therefore in many viral respiratory diseases, we do see a decrease in disease in spring and summer.  And so we could certainly be optimistic that this disease will follow suit.”

Asked for the “information” the CDC is giving the president, Dr. Nancy Messonnier invokes a “hypothesis,” a supposition based on limited evidence. Those at risk from the coronavirus might wonder about this CDC bureaucrat so optimistic about a single hypothesis, for which we could be hopeful.

As the CDC explains, Dr. Messonnier received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MD from the University of Chicago School of Medicine. No word of advanced degrees in molecular biology or cell biology, so strictly speaking, she is not a virologist.

Dr. Messonnier began her career with the CDC in 1995 as “an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer in the Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases (DDID).” The Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), is on the “front lines” all over the world, even in China, but no intrepid EIS “officer”  prevented the Wuhan virus from hitting American soil. The EIS is also missing from the CDC organizational chart, so the people might wonder who leads this mysterious “service” and how much public money it spends.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier joined the EIS as part of another CDC division, not exactly the “front lines,” and “led the Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch in NCIRD’s Division of Bacterial Diseases from 2007-2012.” As it happens, the award-winning Nancy Messonnier is the sister of Rod Rosenstein, not much in the news of late but certainly a person of interest.

Rod Rosenstein is the former deputy attorney general who oversaw the Mueller probe and proclaimed himself willing to “wear a wire,” to trip up President Trump. The family connection led some to wonder if Nancy might exploit the coronavirus to damage the president in November, a kind of epidemic fall classic.

“Many people in the United States will at some point in time either this year or next be exposed to this virus and there’s a good chance many will become sick,” Messonnier said in a March 9 telebriefing. In that session, Tom Howell of the Washington Times asked about the link between travelers from China and coronavirus cases in Washington State.

“I think that’s an interesting hypothesis,” Messonnier said. “But there are alternate explanations of the same findings.” Dr. Messonnier did not elaborate on the “alternate explanations” and did not reveal any information the WHO team had gathered on China.

Craig of KNX radio might wonder if the CDC is leveling with the people about the Wuhan virus the CDC failed to prevent from hitting American soil.


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