Mort Laitner
Mort Laitner

The Day I Lost Respect in the CDC

During the AIDS crisis, I lost all of my respect for the CDC.

So you may wonder, “Mort, that’s a long time ago. What happened?”

“Well, here’s my story, about karma biting the CDC in the ass?”

In the beginning, I, like most of you, held the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the highest regard.

As a  Miami attorney for one of the largest health departments in the nation, they were my go-to team.

A team of experts who understood not to play around with mother science.

I loved their simplistic, nerd-like wisdom.

“The most effective way of preventing STDs is by not having sex.”

But if I had a novel health issue requiring expertise, I called the CDC and I appreciated that their answers weren’t painted in politics.

In the mid-’80s, as AIDS spread across the nation and in the gay community, the CDC declared it a sexually transmittable disease (STD).

Their STD team knew how to handle the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. They had done it for over 40 years.

For years they succeeded in slowing the spread of syphilis by “contact tracing”—asking an infected carrier who he or she had slept with and then contacting, testing and treating those partners in need.

When I attended college we called this approach, “Epidemiology 101.”

Well in the mid-’80s, the Miami Dade Health Department was honored with an onsite visit by some CDC big shots. They lectured us in a group meeting about the spread of AIDS.

But I being a shy, politically-correct attorney, waited for one of those CDC reps to visit me in my office so I could ask her the $64,000 question.

“When is the CDC going to recommend contact-tracing to the states during this AIDS pandemic?”

The rep looked me in the eyes and whispered, “I don’t know. But it won’t be for a while.”

Squinting my eyes and raising my voice two octaves, I said,

“Do your bosses know while they’re playing politics with this disease, they’re killing people?

How do they sleep at night?

When will they ever learn that politics and science are polar opposites?

Don’t they know that while they’re fiddling, Rome is burning.”

The rep glanced down at her shoes and did not utter a word and

my respect for the CDC flew out the window.

But as she left my office, I wanted to tell her,

“Karma is a bitch with a long memory and the patience of a saint.

One day in another pandemic the CDC will pay for its sins.

Mark my words.”

But I bit my tongue.

About the Author
Florida's Jewish short-story writer, speaker, film producer and retired attorney. He has authored, "A Hebraic Obsession", "The Hanukkah Bunny" and "The Greatest Gift." He produced an award-winning short film entitled, "The Stairs". Movie can be viewed on my TOI blog. Mort is a correspondent for the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel Jewish Journal.
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