Editorial: Government furlough risks status of national public health

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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The government shutdown, which is now a week in length, has affected more than congressmen and government workers, reaching new heights by threatening the lives of the American people nationwide. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service declared a national public health alert because of an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg in raw chicken products produced by three facilities in California.

Foster Farms, a chicken brand with plants along the western coast and Alabama, has infected at least 300 people in 18 states because of their products, according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that Foster Farms’ products served as a catalyst for a previous outbreak earlier in the year, affecting 134 people in 13 states.

Both entities, however, have been of little assistance in assessing and troubleshooting the issue as a result of the government furlough. Both the USDA and CDC have been severely understaffed, allowing the multi-state outbreak to persist.

The CDC is in charge of these instances of multi-state outbreaks of food poisoning and has dismissed all but two health officials who typically analyze foodborne pathogens, leaving the remaining two to complete the work of the entire department. 

“Our ability to find, stop and prevent health threats has been cut by two-thirds,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, told Georgia Health News. “The biggest concern is what we don’t know.”

CDC officials aren’t refusing to analyze and conduct cross-state consultations of the outbreak, but they have been locked out of their laboratories, email accounts and offices, which prevents them from completing their civic duty. The lab analysis and molecular detection that have the ability to link cases across different states in an effort to determine the magnitude of outbreaks are consequently not happening.

The government’s inactivity has not only affected employees in Washington, D.C., but also the agencies that protect and prevent American citizens from harm. Negotiations of  federal government finances are not only harmful to the national economy, but also to the well-being of the nation’s citizenry. It is deplorable from a moral and practical standpoint, eroding the already limited trust that U.S. citizens have in regard to the federal government. 

Ultimately, when will congressional Republicans set their unsuccessful political tactics aside, end this furlough and resume the country’s activities? Maybe House Speaker John Boehner can learn a thing or two from his own advice. This, in fact, is not a game. 


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